Ontario post-secondary students need free mental health care: report

After waiting eight months for mental health services, college student advocate wants the system to change

A new report is pushing the Ontario government to provide free mental health care for post-secondary students.

The In It Together report which was supported by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), Colleges Ontario, Council of Ontario Universities, and the College Student Alliance (CSA) makes 26 recommendations including that the province formally recognize post-secondary students as a priority group, separate from children, youth and adults.

“We need to have the government recognize post-secondary students as their own population,” said Ariana Chasse, vice-president of the CSA.

One recommendation is expanding the Good2Talk phone line to have a text messaging option, as well as an online support forum. Another is funding for assessments so that students can get diagnoses for mental health concerns prior to entering post-secondary school.

“We do believe in reducing stigma and increasing understanding and education around what mental health actually looks like, so we’re addressing all those issues from all angles,” said Sophie Helpard, executive director of the OUSA.

The spring 2016 National College Health Assessment found that 46 per cent of students reported feeling so depressed that is was difficult to function and 65 per cent said they experienced overwhelming anxiety. 2.2 per cent of students said they had attempted suicide in the previous year, with 14 per cent seriously considering it in the past year and nine per cent having tried to kill themselves before.

For Chasse, it’s about building awareness on the real problems.

“You don’t hide when you have a broken leg, so if you feel anxiety, why should that be something that you hide?”.

Chasse had personal reasons for her work on the report.

“I looked outside my institution for assistance in regards to my mental health, and I was still on a wait list for eight months before my initial contact,” Chasse said.

Chasse said the ability to rely on her classmates and friends for support is what got her through it and she makes a point of reaching out students at her school.

“I just really want students to not feel like they have to be a number,” she said. “I see someone sitting by themselves and I will stop and talk to them and sit down with them.”

The report also recommends that the province fund peer-to-peer counselling on campuses.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development said that the province is investing $45 million over the next three years, in students’ mental health and well-being.

“I think this is an issue that everybody cares about. We’re just excited to see these recommendations turn into reality and work with all of our partners,” said Helpard.

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Ontario post-secondary students need free mental health care: report