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Content Warning: mentions of suicide.
It’s no myth that university students can struggle with their mental health. School is a lot of pressure on a student, from the pressures of maintaining good grades to keep scholarships, to joining extracurriculars to gain experiences, and the general struggle of keeping up with deadlines. Most students also move away from home for the first time, and have to learn how to deal with new responsibilities such as rent, groceries, jobs, roommates, and many other tasks they may not have had to conquer yet. Perhaps the toughest part can be managing all of these new challenges alone. But is this really the biggest issue that students have on campus, or is there a larger issue in play?
A recent article by the CBC points out how the University of Ottawa has had five deaths on campus since January of 2019. Five students took their own lives at the University of Ottawa, three students took their own lives at the University of Toronto, and I’m sure the story is similar across all Canadian universities. The CBC article states that “the president of the University of Ottawa is pleading with students living with mental health issues to reach out for help in the wake of the death of one student,” but who are these students supposed to reach out to? Students are taking to Twitter and Instagram to share their thoughts about the matter; demanding more resources be made available on campus as there simply is not enough to meet the demand of students. University students everywhere are noting the long wait times to see school counsellors and the lack of proper resources. Everyone loves a good therapy dog, but more often than not, I need a real therapist to help me.
The Ministry of Colleges and Universities also released a statement recently by Minister Ross Romano saying, “We’ve come now to a realization: mental health is health.” Suicide is the second leading cause in youth deaths and only now we’re in a crisis? Only now it is looked at as health? The government's solution for this is to dump $1 million into Good2Talk, an app for post-secondary education students to text or call a therapist on the other end. Not only do I think this is not enough, but the money did not go to the
right place. Universities need more in-person and accessible resources – students should not have to wait four or more months to see someone about their mental health. I’m sure the app may be helpful to some, but most students do not even know what it is, and if they do happen to know, they don’t use it. If I’m in crisis, it is rare that I’ll pick up my phone at all, let alone use it to talk on an app to a stranger.
Trent’s wait time is on the shorter end compared to the wait time I have heard from other schools in the country. However, if the wait time is short, is the quality of the service compromised for the speed of the service? Is the wait shorter because no one wants to use it? The problem I have is with the quality of support I’ve received at Trent when I have been in poor mental health. School counsellors should not tell me that I am detrimental to my own health when I express something to them that does not warrant that response. Professors shouldn’t tell me that they “don’t want to hear about it,” in the same breath they are reminding me that my assignment is late, when I go to their office hours to explain why I have not been able to get to class due to mental health issues.
Earlier this year, students had the option to opt out of fees for “non-essential” clubs and groups with the “Student Choice Initiative.” These groups included those that aid in mental health on campus such as Active Minds, Peer Support, Student Health Educators, etc. So the government deemed that mental health clubs were no longer important, but how many students needed to take fatal measures before the government took out their cheque book?
We need proper education on mental health and the different types of mental illnesses. Students cannot treat something that they don’t know is wrong. We need more educational events – don’t get me wrong, I love a therapy dog and a free plant as much as the next student, but we need to raise more awareness for the real issues students have. We need to put actual measures in place to help with the mental health crisis we have found ourselves in.