’We’re not a treatment facility’: The struggle for campuses to provide students mental health care

Posted on August 24th, 2017

Alicia

Demand for mental health services at Ontario universities and colleges has reached an all-time high.

With another wave of students about to begin a new academic year, the pressure on campus health providers shows no signs of diminishing. And schools are struggling to keep up.

More than ever, students are being referred by campus health staff to services off-campus.

School and government officials say it’s a necessary step to handle the volume and complexity of student needs. But mental health advocates and students themselves say transitioning from on-campus to off-campus mental health services can leave major gaps in care, forcing students to navigate a confusing system in a sometimes strange city, often with the added barriers of long wait times and high financial costs.

For many of those involved, the solution is for university staff to provide strong support and guidance to students as they access off-campus resources. But that kind help is often missing during the transition process, critics say.

“We will fill in the gaps where we can, but we’re not a treatment facility,” said Casey Phillips, assistant vice-president of students at Nipissing University. “We’re meant for that brief therapy, we’re meant to handle some of that lower level. (For) more complex cases we are reliant upon the community.”

Beginning post-secondary school often means moving away from home for the first time, and being far from family and friends.

The majority of mental health issues begin to surface during a person’s teens or 20s. But age restrictions on youth programs force many young people to abandon the mental health services they have accessed for years at about the age of 18 — leaving them on their own to find new sources of help in the adult health-care system.

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