Student groups create collaborative report to enhance student mental health

Graphic by Alan Li

A collaborative report, In It Together: Taking Action on Student Mental Health, was recently released as a call to the Province for greater action regarding the challenges and difficulties pertaining to mental health which continues to increase among students in Ontario.

The report was compiled by four partners: the College Student Alliance, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities.

The partners involved make up the four groups who represent colleges and universities in Ontario and more than than 220,000 students.

The report presents a unique approach to tackling mental health in Ontario due to its collaborative approach and the united stance which all four parties have taken in presenting the report’s suggestions to the provincial government.

“Students and administrators wanted clarity and direction and commitment and we realized that this is an issue that not a single on of our groups is going to solve but it needs a collaborative approach,” Andrew Clubine, president of OUSA, said.

“So we came together understanding that this is a big problem and it’s a big challenge.”

The report provides comprehensive recommendations, such as free mental health care and services for students both on and off campus that are not currently funded by OHIP, enhanced government investment in transition programs for secondary students as they get ready to enter post-secondary, an update to Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, amongst other suggestions.

“It’s also a way for letting institutions know that it is a priority to keep enhancing mental health support and services that we have on campus.”

“The report … makes recommendations on a system level. So you wont see a ton of stuff about that you’ll be able to assess simply by going to your campus clinic. Where we’re hoping to see substantial changes, frankly, is budgets,” Clubine said.

Additionally, within the report is an integrated strategy which encourages teaching resiliency and coping that starts as early as kindergarten. Although almost three quarters of mental health onsets between the ages of 18 and 24, many of these cases come as a result of something that occurs previous to this age bracket.

Allowing children in elementary school to become comfortable talking about how they’re feeling and how their emotions might effect how they’re doing at school at a young age can install the importance of coping and encourage resiliency throughout all levels of school.

“We won’t deal with this issue by dealing with it isolated at one age group. That’s part of our call in the report. And the best way of explaining it is we’re underscoring the importance of wellness programming when students are young,” Clubine said.

However, the aspect which makes the report most unique is its collaborative approach.

“It was the first time [the government has] seen the four of us sitting together in a room asking for the same thing,” Clubine said.

“I’m hopeful that’ll be effective because it’s the four largest voices in the post-secondary sector saying this is something we need to deal with and this is something we need to deal with together.”

Stephanie Bellotto, vice-president: university affairs at Laurier’s Students’ Union, explained that in addition to the report, mental health has been an ongoing priority at Laurier within the Students’ Union and from university faculty and administration.

“Laurier currently does really well holding relations with health services in the community and they recognize that there isn’t just one need when it comes to mental health, as every student has different experiences and different needs,” Bellotto said

Bellotto and other representatives from Laurier will be advocating for the recommendations made within the report to the provincial government on Nov. 26 in Toronto.

“I think this report is going to raise awareness and let students know that they’re not alone. It’s also going to ensure that the government knows that providing supporting services on mental health is constantly a priority,” Bellotto said.

“It’s also a way for letting institutions know that it is a priority to keep enhancing mental health support and services that we have on campus.”

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