Data confirms that demand for youth mental health services continues to increase greatly

Graphic by Alan Li

Recent data collected by The Toronto Star and Ryerson University revealed that the demand for youth mental health services has increased greatly in the past several years and continues to peak at a high rate.

The increasing demand by students is a cause for concern amongst post-secondary institutions, who are now faced with supplying enough resources to meet the high need. In order to do so, many post-secondary institutions have had to increase funding, or change the way which they use funds, in order to provide a system that is efficient and effective.

Karen Ostrander, director of Laurier’s Student Wellness Centre, explained that Laurier’s health and counselling department began to make major changes starting in 2012 when various student groups had expressed some concern in regards to having easy access.

“[We] formed a student wellness initiative … we knocked down the walls between our two departments, made changes in our reception area and really upped our clinical care so that we would be able to respond in the best way,” Ostrander said.

“We feel like we’ve made some positive changes, but definitely the numbers continue to go up.”

According to The Star, a joint study conducted with Ryerson – where 15 universities and colleges across Canada were surveyed – found that all but one institution had increased their budget for mental health over the past five years by an average of 35 per cent.

Similarly, a major survey conducted by the American College Health Association showed that between 2013 and 2016, amongst 25,164 Ontario university students, there was a 47 per cent increase in depression, a 50 per cent increase in anxiety and an 86 per cent increase in substance abuse.

Within that same period the number of suicide attempts also grew to 37 per cent.

According to various researchers and health specialists, the reason for the spike in youth mental health demand stems from numerous factors.

One of these reasons, said Ostrander, may stem from the anxiety that is induced through being exposed to instant news.

“Whether it’s with social media or, certainly, through the evolution of the internet and websites … news is instant—and we’re seeing different world events, particularly right now, so we’re a little more aware of that,” Ostrander said.

“I think that this generation has really grown up in a digital age and is much more familiar with computers and with instant access … I think that has had somewhat of an impact on people’s ability to communicate and just be connected.”

Additionally, Ostrander explained that the rise in demand may also stem from the broader learning abilities of students who enter post-secondary education.

For example, students who may have faced challenges in secondary school, such as ADHD or learning disabilities, may not have had as much access to post-secondary school several years ago in comparison to present day.

This broader access to post-secondary may suggest a positive trend, concluding that students are being better supported throughout high school, allowing them to continue on to university or college.

In addition to striving to provide as much support and resources to students, the Student Wellness Centre has also taken on the task of educating students on the importance of self-care in order to improve coping strategies and self-awareness.

“So much impacts your mental health and your ability to cope and your resiliency – we’d like to focus a lot on the resiliency because our mental health is a continuum,” Ostrander said.

Above all, Ostrander feels that supporting one another and creating connections can help to build resiliency.

“We’re lucky at Laurier. I think there’s a great support. It is a caring community, and there’s a lot of support and people do express concerns for our students,” she said.

“I think together we can be stronger, so that’s really what we’re trying to work towards here.”

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