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Policy paper highlights role of federal government in students’ mental well-being

Photo by Marta Kierkus

Prompted by the prevalence of mental health-related issues on campuses, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) released a new report detailing the role of the federal government in treating young adults with mental illnesses.

CASA, which consists of 22 students associations across Canada, is calling for the further de-stigmatization of mental illnesses on campuses and an increase in funding for treatment and research opportunities.

Jonathan Champagne, the group’s executive director of CASA, said the government is working alongside CASA to establish a better mental health support system for students.

But he said a lack of relevant data impedes the process. Champagne did note that collecting information on mental health is difficult and costly, but the current available data is “woefully, not enough.”

“What we are calling for is better information, better data. How prevalent of a problem is this on campuses?” he said. “When you have good data you are able to then see what are some more of the root causes, where these problems come from, and how do we address them.”

Nicole Desnoyers, vice-president of services and communications at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, said the report is “incredibly relevant,” but the university system itself is a big part of the problem.

“University campuses in and of themselves have inherent structures that will for the most part negatively impact students’ mental health,” she said. “The way courses are taught, the way that students are tested, the way that exam periods are run, the way financial aid works, the way students go into debt. All of these processes do impact mental health.”

Students who do seek professional mental health care find the process arduous, she said.

“I think the biggest issue I can point to as someone who has that broad view as a student leader is the bureaucratic red tape that students are forced to go through to get any form of accommodations or support on this campus,” she said.

In 2011, U of O students claimed a combined total of $119,049 for antidepressant prescriptions. The drugs were reported to be the second most frequently used on campus, behind contraceptives.

The Student Academic Success Service (SASS) provides counselling and other support services to U of O students. SASS director Murray Sang said that 60 per cent of their resources are now geared toward students with mental health issues.

“What’s frustrating for us, being on the front line, is that students will come and finally they’ll get the courage to discuss this particular problem and get some help. But then you get put into the system and the system has long wait times,” he said.

“You can work while you have a knee problem, but if you have mental health issues, it’s very hard to continue.”