From being required to divulge sensitive and personal information to shouldering huge financial burdens for their care, students looking for mental health support may face institutional barriers that they’re not even aware of.
To address this, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) has published a paper titled Breaking Down Barriers: Mental Health and Post-Secondary Students which explores some of the most common barriers. The document also includes several calls to action for the provincial and federal governments to aid students whose mental health issues are potentially holding them back from succeeding in post-secondary education.
According to the document, “it is concerning that Canadians with mental health problems and illnesses appear to have lower rates of post-secondary credential than the general population.”
Health-care varies from province to province, but there are certain aspects of it that the federal government involved itself in. These include putting “funding into supporting organizations like the Mental Health Commission of Canada and controlling some of the rules that underpin Canada student loans—which are the backbone of the loans the provincial system provide students,” according to Michael McDonald, CASA Executive Director.
The Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP) currently does not accommodate students needing to take time off from their studies for mental health-related reasons. CASA points to this as a fundamental flaw in the program that only adds additional stress for those seeking academic and financial assistance.
CASA would like to see changes made to the CSLP that would ensure that “students who need to take breaks aren’t punished or don’t have to enter into repayment if they are having to do so for mental health reasons,” McDonald says.
He adds, “It means … being able to acknowledge that many mental health diagnoses cost significant money to those students.”
A wide spectrum of mental health challenges exist and manifest themselves in different ways, but not all diagnoses come with the level of permanency required to access the support systems that currently exist to assist students.
One way to help address this problem is to reduce the public’s notion that there is something wrong with those who struggle with issues of mental health. For its part, the Kwantlen Student Association has hosted a number of events—such as the Pieces of Mind Mental Health Conference and a Mental Health Resource Fair, both hosted in October 2017—relating to mental health awareness, advocacy, and well-being.
“It’s important to bring awareness so students know that they’re not alone and that they can get resources,” says Caitlin McCutchen, KSA VP External and the association’s women’s representative. “The worst thing is to suffer alone or to think you don’t have any support.”
McDonald is glad to see that “student governments have been very active fighting on campaigns to make sure there is proper promotion of awareness on campuses,” but feels that, “if we’re not willing to back that up with the dollars to properly support those students … it’s going to be a frustrating challenge.”
According to CASA’s paper, targeted funding and active support from the federal government is an essential component of ensuring the success of students facing mental health barriers during their post-secondary careers.
“This is something that is going to have to be acknowledged, and it is a clear place for the federal government to have the commitment to ensuring all Canadians have the same access to services across the country,” states McDonald.
“Having these conversations continues to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments to really start helping out with this,” McCutchen says. “[Universities] pay for all the health services on campus, so I think continuing to talk about it puts pressure on the government to help supplement that.”