CASA lists mental health recommendations to Federal Government

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On Jan. 9, 2018, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) published a policy paper on mental health.

The paper lists a series of recommendations to the federal government to improve post-secondary students’ mental health across Canada.

“CASA’s membership, from across the country, are student leaders representing their own institutions,” Michael McDonald, executive director of CASA, said.

“Many have identified mental health concerns as a pressing need across the country, and they asked CASA to be able to spell out some better policies, especially at the federal government level,” McDonald said.

The policy paper begins with an overview of recent data on post-secondary students’ mental health which points to the conclusion that, as time goes on, mental health has been getting progressively worse.

Drawing on data collected in a 2016 survey from the National College Health Association, the policy paper points out that of those who responded to the survey, 44 per cent identified themselves as being “so depressed it was difficult to function.”

 

 

The increasing rates of mental health issues on post-secondary campuses can put a strain on the services already in place to accommodate students seeking help.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s own Wellness Centre has recently faced its own share of criticism from students who reported on social media that they were, allegedly, being turned away from accessing services due to a lack of immediacy/emergency.

McDonald recognizes this trend in post-secondary institutions across Canada

“We’ve now seen many who identify as potentially having an issue, try to turn to services and encounter the fact that there just aren’t services there,” McDonald said.

“Or there just is a waiting line that is exceptionally long, or the diagnostic processes are taking an exceedingly long time, often so long it would put a student’s semester in jeopardy if they were to pursue it.”

The policy paper’s recommendations to the federal government are divided in the paper between three categories: “Academic Accommodations,” “Stigma Reduction & Mental Health Care Support Services” and “Financial Accessibility.”

“Depending on the situation, depending on the mental health concern that’s being identified, a variety of different services within the institution need to get better at providing support to students,” McDonald said.

With respect to academic accommodations, the policy paper’s asks include reducing the burden of proof on students to show that they do, in fact, have mental health problems.

“That includes accessibility offices being less restrictive with the information that they need to be provided in order to provide accessibility services to students who really do need it,” McDonald said.

The paper also asks for the federal funding of de-stigmatization campaigns to reduce stigma and prejudicial attitudes throughout post-secondary institutions, which the paper alleges is present among professors and even the staff working in accessibility offices.

“That includes professors being more willing and understanding about mental health concerns in general,” McDonald said.

McDonald outlined CASA’s next steps on the issue.

“We are going to be looking to the budget this year to see if we have been able to have any successes around some of our asks,” McDonald said.

“It’s something our members are going to continue to focus on. Each year, our membership decides the priorities of the organization and as we go through this year, they will build on this paper to see what other opportunities exist next year as well,” McDonald said.

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