Over the past few years, the dialogue around mental health and undergraduate students has changed dramatically. This is at least in part because there is more information available about the mental health challenges experienced by students. For instance, a 2011 study on undergraduates in Alberta concluded that mental health issues are a serious concern. The research showed that, “At the University of Calgary, severe psychiatric disorders have increased 5.6 times since 2005-06. At the University of Lethbridge there has been a 76 per cent increase in booked counseling sessions in the past five years.” This mental health crisis among university students was also discussed in two Maclean’s articles- one in 2012 and one in 2017. In 2013, a College Quarterly article described some of the most significant hardships that students encounter, which include depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Fast-forward to 2019 and examples of a mental health crisis in our universities continue to appear. This reality has motivated some students at the University of Toronto to demand increased access to timely mental health supports. And, in February 2020, the President of the University of British Columbia (UBC), Santa J. Ono, spoke about the mental health challenges that he experienced as a university student, which, he notes, underscores his desire to make a difference for today’s students. At least in part because of Ono’s personal desire to help, increased opportunities to receive mental health education and necessary supports are widely available at the university.
Ono’s openness about his personal history and responsiveness to the mental health crisis is needed. And while I sincerely hope that his leadership and personal history will translate to significant changes being made at other institutions, it is unfortunately the case that the mental health crisis has lingered for almost a decade because the changes made thus far have not been enough to meet ‘crisis’ levels.
Changes in how Mental Health is Discussed
Fortunately, in the recent past, I have seen the dialogue around mental health and student life change dramatically. While there is still much progress to be made, I have seen the “end the stigma” campaigns centred on mental health change the way we speak about the topic on university campuses. This is true for high schools, too, which is a positive thing.
Even if you have never had an episode of anxiety, depression, or any other symptoms of mental health issues, it is important that you understand the resources that are available to you on university campuses. If, on the other hand, you are currently managing mental health challenges and you’re concerned about how you will continue to do so as an undergraduate, it is important for you to know that you’re not on your own.
While it is impossible to list all of the mental health resources offered by every university in North America, know that most schools are very serious about helping students through mental health crises. In fact, it is very likely that your school will have a personal counseling service on campus (click here to see York University’s Personal Counseling Services as an example).
There are also other public resources that you can find if you don’t feel comfortable with your school’s services. Ontario’s Good2Talk, for example, is free, bilingual, confidential, and it “offers professional counselling and information and referrals for mental health, addictions and well-being to post-secondary students in Ontario 24/7/365.”
If you are ever in a position where you need more or specific resources, here is a list of some other services that you can consult. Please keep in mind that I am not a professional in dealing with mental health issues and the information below is not meant to act as a replacement to a professional’s advice. I simply believe that students should always have access to supports for their well-being.