According to the latest World Happiness Report, Canada is the sixth happiest place to live in the world. Standing above both the USA and the UK. It’s been in the top 10 since the survey began back in 2002. Sadly, that doesn’t make it exempt from the rising levels of mental illnesses affecting students around the world.
The American College Health Association recently conducted a study covering health trends of Canadian students. The survey was completed by 43,780 people from 41 public colleges in Canada, and poses some startling truths. For example, when asked what factors contributed towards a declining academic achievement (such as an exam grade) 32.5 per cent of students cited ‘anxiety’ as a major reason, and 20.9 per cent said ‘depression’ affected their studies.
How can a nation believed to be one of the happiest in the world, be failing its students so badly?
In total, this means over half of students surveyed (53.4 per cent, or 23,203 students) believe that mental illness is or has affected their academic work. The real question is: how have we allowed this to happen? How can a nation believed to be one of the happiest in the world, be failing its students so badly?
Sara, 20, is a student from Toronto, and thinks that colleges are more focused on keeping up good impressions than helping their students: “My roommate suffered with pretty bad anxiety and I felt there was nothing I could do.”she said. “She would come back from lessons each day and really struggle to concentrate on her work without having a panic attack. It was primarily the workload.”
“I told her she should speak to a counselor or someone who could help but she said she just didn’t have the time; she had too much work to do and if she took time off to get help then she would fall behind even more,” said Sara.
These thoughts are echoed through research, where, from the same study, 89.5 per cent of respondents said they ‘felt overwhelmed’ from all they had to do. 59.6 per cent of students said they felt ‘things were hopeless’ and 44.4 per cent said they ‘were so depressed it was difficult to function.’
It is clear that things can’t continue this way, and there is hope that things will improve. Luckily, these statistics and other surveys with similar results are finally provoking change around Canada.
Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health (OUCHA)
With academic pressures thought to be one of the top reasons behind an increasingly anxious generation, the challenge should be focused around how to limit these stress levels, rather than fixing them once they’re already a problem.
“Lives are at stake,” said Meg Houghton, president of the Ontario University and College Health Association (OUCHA), in response to the results found. She suggested that, hopefully, the ‘dire’ figures would promote action in the form of coordinated, on-campus strategies.
With academic pressures thought to be one of the top reasons behind an increasingly anxious generation, the challenge should be focused around how to limit these stress levels, rather than fixing them once they’re already a problem. We all know that college is full of pressures of all types; having to pay extortionate fees, as well as funding accommodation, living expenses and actually having a social life. It’s no surprise that, with costs increasing every year, students mental state have drastically gone downhill.
One of the projects aiming to help students all over Ontario is the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health (CICMH). Connecting with student services, counseling, student leaders and community partners, it is aiming to get set up at every university in the area in the hope of reducing mental illness suffering and also prevent its arrival in the first place. Their three main programmes – prevention, promotion and treatment – means that suffering students can receive help no matter where they find themselves; with minor symptoms that can be nipped in the bud, or near breaking point.
Healthy Minds Canada & Bell Let’s Talk
Other resources available to help students suffering from mental illnesses include Healthy Minds Canada and Bell Let’s Talk, both of which are national projects. The former uses Twitter and Facebook to interact with students and those worrying about someone who could be suffering, and the latter has raised $79,919,178.55 to help Canada’s mental health problem in various different ways.
I spoke to Chelsea Ricchio, Communications Manager of Healthy Minds Canada, about how universities can improve mental health support across the country, and what Healthy Minds is doing already to help.
“Aside from financial donations, it really helps when universities reach out to partner with us on events or invite us to speak at their schools,” said Chelsea. “Recently, we partnered with students at the University of Toronto on a panel discussion with great results!
New Services Within Universities
Some Canadian universities are also creating new roles specifically to help struggling students. Adrienne Luft is one of three student support team leaders around the country, and believes this role is a great step towards widening support in educational institutions.
“Ask for help, reach out. There are so many supportive resources available. Don’t give up if the first door you knock on is not the one that feels right to you.”
Adrienne, who works at Laurier University, said, “We have worked to tear down barriers for students accessing support through creating an integrated multi-disciplinary Student Wellness Centre. The structure of my role allowed me to hear from students about the changes that were needed to decrease stigma on our campus, but it was really through the dedication of so many on our campus that allowed for positive changes to occur.”
“If you’re struggling,” she continued: “Ask for help, reach out. There are so many supportive resources available. Don’t give up if the first door you knock on is not the one that feels right to you.”
“So often in my work with students, I have heard that reaching out hasn’t always been met with the right support immediately. Mental illness is treatable; it is all about finding the right support for you. You don’t have to continue to suffer in silence.”
In terms of asking for support further afield, Adrienne believes your college or university is a great place to start. “Support in different communities can vary, so start with your post-secondary institution. They are able to provide services, and can also be a great resource for connecting you to support in the wider community. For example in our community we have a service called Here 24-7 hat allows students to access mental health support and services 24-7. We also have a post-secondary helpline in Ontario called Good2Talk that allows students to talk to a trained counsellor 24-7, and/or be linked to local resources in their community.” Said Adrienne.
He claims that universities have been trying to target mental health problems for years, but without much direction.
Last month, Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry professor at The Dalhousie University has announced a brand new, three-year research initiative, which will aim to test the effectiveness of a specific framework at five different institutions. He claims that universities have been trying to target mental health problems for years, but without much direction.
Dr Kutcher pointed out although institutions vary from place to place, the research should hopefully raise public awareness and should find a clearer pathway to targeting the needs of those struggling. The five postsecondary institutions are: Mount Saint Vincent, Saint Mary’s and St. Francis Xavier universities, Nova Scotia Community College and Holland College in Prince Edward Island.
He said the research should focus on being a “relatively simple integrated model” that could be altered depending on the needs of the individual university. But generally, there are three elements to it: mental health literacy, the training of key faculty in identifying mental disorders, and the enhancement of campus health care providers’ abilities to respond to mental health needs.
Funded by a $600,000 grant from Medavie Health Foundation, there are hopes that the research will encourage positive talk of mental health and help reduce the stigma nationwide.
It is clear that Canada will soon be on its way up, with support across the nation improving under Justin Trudeau and national organisations, but there is a still a lot that needs to be done to ensure students are able to continue their studies with all the support they need.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.