University students face a host of unique challenges when it comes to mental health concerns. It’s estimated that three quarters of mental illnesses develop by age 24, and many people who struggle with depression or anxiety will be diagnosed during their university years. Students experience high levels of stress due to the challenges of managing their academic, financial and interpersonal responsibilities, which can be a struggle even for students without pre-existing mental health conditions.
Accessing mental health services can be challenging for a number of reasons. For many people, stigma and fear can make it difficult to ask for help. But what I've realized since taking office is that for many students, one of the main barriers is simply not knowing where to go when they’re struggling. It’s not that there’s a lack of resources – the U of A’s central campus has a host of programs, events and tools meant to assist students affected by either mental illness or overwhelming stress. But there are so many options that students often aren't sure where to turn. As an institution, we are lacking stability and consistency, not only in terms of funding, but also in communicating and coordinating efforts and activities. Increasingly, the institution seems to be looking at the issue of mental health in a holistic way, echoing the approach highlighted in the provincial government review of mental health care - looking at the relationship between housing and mental health and so on.
As it is now, in order for students to find a certain resource, they would have to know which unit operates the service that they are looking to use. Many students are unaware that the Peer Support Centre is a service offered by the Students’ Union and that the University Health Centre, for example, is administered by the office of the Dean of Students. Such distinctions can be a source of confusion for students and constitute an additional barrier to them reaching out for help.
There is an enormous need for a centralized place that allows students to learn about the various services offered on and around campus and how to access them. One of my goals for the coming year will be to champion the creation of a centralized platform – either a website, an app, a physical space or some combination of the above – that helps connect students with the right resources.
I am exploring the different possibilities and options that we have to make this happen, and in the meantime, here are two resources that I find many students are not aware of and that I wanted to share with you:
The Peer Support Centre Helpline
780 492 4357 (during opening hours)
If you have the student health and dental plan offered through the Students’ Union,, you’re covered for 80% of the cost of a session with one of the counsellors in our network, up to $600 per year, with additional coverage for confidential online sessions! Check out http://ihaveaplan.ca/mentalhealth/ for more information!