Enrolment at our university and college campuses are increasing. As a result, appointment requests are up considerably for mental health issues; many are asking WHY?
“Students will say there is decreased access to therapists and appointments as well as limited available clinical space in institutions.”
The Root of the Issue
It seems collectively our awareness of mental health and its impact is increasing and the accompanying stigma that goes along with it, but that’s not the whole picture. More stressors are impacting our students. We have a greater volume of international students struggling with transitions and cultural changes; wider gaps in the expectations high school and post-secondary institutions demand and a social media atmosphere that favours online interaction over face to face social connections. Together, these have led to lack of sleep, isolation and loneliness and a growing use of substances to cope. Student data indicates the top mental health problems are: anxiety, depression, relationship issues, academic stress and not being able to regulate emotions.
The challenges for colleges and universities are many. Students will say there is decreased access to therapists and appointments as well as limited available clinical space in institutions. This limited access and wait time compounds many of the problems that the student is presented with in the first place. The complexity of the problems have also intensified. More students are presenting with psychiatric, complex disabilities and trauma. Government support and resources need to keep pace with this rising demand. On many campuses, increased caseloads and expectations has left therapists on the brink of burnout.
The Solution to Improve Our Support for Mental Health
We need to enhance the provision of mental health service on our campuses and here’s a few ways we can. Let’s offer more group sessions for students and restructure our thinking around individual appointments. With a growing number of therapists being trained in Ontario, let’s develop a pool of clinicians who could respond to student needs more efficiently offering services like virtual solutions to counselling, and non-clinical connections. We want our students to develop coping skills and resilience through skill building, self-expression, and peer support. These can take the form of wellness initiatives on campus, exercise groups, mindfulness and meditation, ways to deal with conflict, spiritual support and campus community partners. When it comes to enhancing mental health services on our campuses, we all can help.