Examining where we’ve come from last year, and how to move forward

This past week, the Fulcrum sat down with Jacques Frémont, president of the University of Ottawa, to discuss the year thus far and his goals for the rest of 2017-18. Among the issues focused on during the interview were campus mental health services, following up on the Fulcrum’s conversation with Frémont at the end of last year. The biggest takeaway from both interviews? Our campus’ mental health services still have a long way to go.

Last year, Frémont told us that the university’s services are “overburdened,” and that “we get nothing from the state.” This year, as Frémont put it, “there has been some progress, but let’s be realistic, the progress will never be fast enough.”

While it’s comforting to hear that the university believes it has made progress in its mental health services, what we’re lacking are statistics and stories to back up this claim. Has more money been put towards the on-campus mental health services? Have more counselors been hired for the Student Academic Success Service (SASS)? The best way to prove that progress has been made in this “overburdened” area is by giving students hard evidence that our services are delivering better results.

Frémont highlighted the need to educate professors and other staff about the mental health issues that students face, which, in itself, is admirable. Our professors need to be more accommodating to the fact that students simply cannot make it to class some days because of a mental illness. But of course, this isn’t always the case, and our professors are not as understanding as we would like them to be.

It’s no secret that Canadian universities are facing a mental health crisis. Our own campus has seen first-hand what can happen when these issues are not addressed in a timely and effective manner. Students are demanding more in our mental health care, and with good reason. If our university receives no government funding for counseling services, then perhaps it’s time we call on our government to do better. But in the meantime, our university needs an overhaul in the way it views mental health issues and their impacts on students.

How can we do better? In the Oct. 31 interview, Frémont noted publicity campaigns on “entry points” to services. He also shared that the university is working to develop an “integrated mental health policy and wellbeing approach.” What exactly will this policy entail? If we want it to be successful, comprehensive and ongoing consultation with students of diverse demographics need to be a priority, and students need to be at the forefront of the development of such a policy. Publicity campaigns should take place throughout the year, not just in January during Bell Let’s Talk, when our society deems it socially acceptable to discuss mental illness.

“I hope that next year I’ll be able to demonstrate how we’ve improved from this year. So we really have to collectively work on that challenge,” Frémont told the Fulcrum. Indeed, students and the administration need to work in tandem to make mental health care timely, affordable, and effective at this university. Next year, we hope that we will be able to concretely say that yes, we are doing better.