The West Coast Needs to Take Students’ Mental Health Seriously

B.C. needs to follow in the footsteps of Atlantic post-secondary institutions

Epifania Alarcon

Beautiful British Columbia, you truly are stunning with your extensive evergreen mountain range, deep blue ocean, and vibrant cities. I wish I could go outside and explore the places I love—but instead, I’m stuck inside working on a pile of homework.

Deep in the heart of midterm season, my frustration is common among students. While we chase our university degrees, many of us are also dealing with countless homework assignments and exams, full-time class loads, online bullying, financial burdens, and part-time jobs.

The Association of Atlantic Universities, which represents 16 post-secondary institutions on the east coast, has taken a collectivized approach to mental health initiatives. An article by University Affairs reports that a “three-year research study will be conducted at all 16 Atlantic Canadian universities to determine student needs, what barriers they face in accessing care, their level of resilience, and how services can be better offered.”

I applaud this move, as student mental health is finally being taken seriously by Atlantic universities and the people in power there. But what about British Columbia?

There are 26 public post-secondary institutions in this province, and divided among them are hundreds of thousands of students, each battling their own myriad of problems. On top of this, “the 18 – 25 age range is also when many mental illnesses first present and are initially diagnosed,” according to a report by the University of Victoria

A recent KPU study examined responses given by 263 KPU students and concluded that “over 85 per cent of students reported experiencing feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion, sadness, depression, and/or being overwhelmed.”

Post-secondary institutions in other provinces are dealing with a similar, if not worse, problem. Four students at the University of Guelph committed suicide between September 2016 and January 2017, prompting a backlash from students who demanded that the university do more to support their mental health.

So what are the Atlantic schools doing right? Although she never personally used her university’s mental health services, Shannon Brown—a graduate of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland—recalled that the student health clinic there was an excellent resource, accessible to all students. Those who needed to could make day-of appointments at the clinic.

She also noted, however, that many students in Nova Scotia, where she originally hails from, frequently complain about the long waitlists accessing for mental health services.

On this side of the country, students at the University of British Columbia having been taking to the internet to post about anxiety and depression on the “UBC Confessions” Facebook page. Most of them are critical of the university’s approach to handling these issues.

One student wrote, “How many more people need to harm/kill themselves before concrete measures to address mental health are implemented? As a second-year student the amount of people I know that hurt themselves is already in the double digits, and every time I hear about someone who does it, a little bit of my sanity chips away.”

Until we destroy the stigma surrounding issues of depression and anxiety in university—where they’re often viewed as indications that those struggling are being overdramatic to get attention—the mental illness epidemic will continue to plague students across the nation.

This isn’t just an Atlantic, Pacific, Eastern, or Prairie problem. This is a Canadian problem.

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