A study released last week found that one-fifth of Canadian teenagers have seriously considered suicide in the last year. It was a grim reminder of the depth of mental health concerns affecting young people, particularly as thousands of new undergraduate students stepped foot onto Ryerson’s campus.
The university’s inability to provide adequate mental health support to all the students in need of it is not news. Last year, students waited as long as three months after their initial triage for an appointment at the Centre for Student Development and Counselling. It’s a figure that should disappoint all members of the Ryerson community. But for the students stuck in the queue, it is simply unacceptable.
Mental health is a profound concern on Ryerson’s campus, as it is at university and colleges across Canada. Ryerson is not alone in its struggle to support its students and students are not alone in their need for increased support. On Sept. 7, the Canadian Association of College and University Students released the 2016 National College Health Assessment. According to the report, 64.5 per cent of students felt “overwhelming anxiety” over the last year — compared to 56.5 per cent when the assessment was conducted in 2013.
Last year ended with some signs of renewed mental health support on campus. The election of the current Ryerson Students’ Union executive — which campaigned on the promise to improve mental health and well-being on campus — is one. In April, the Faculty of Communication and Design also announced a series of mental health pilot programs to be launched this academic year, aiming to better direct students to the resources available on campus.
These promises, however, do not provide the immediate support that students increasingly and desperately need. The FCAD pilots will run intra-faculty this year, with no plans for school-wide implementation until the 2017-2018 academic year. The new wellness centre announced by the RSU this summer has already been delayed from its scheduled September opening, and RSU president Obaid Ullah was not able to provide a prospective date for when students can expect services. Critically, neither project plans to introduce additional mental health counsellors on campus and will not relieve the pressure for on-campus counselling.
As the new school year begins and student spirits on campus run high, we cannot forget that there is an immediate and profound need for increased mental health support on campus. It is a need that does not reset with the start of a new term or the turnover of staff or student government — and it is a need that is affecting more members of the Ryerson community each year.
It would be naive at this point to expect sweeping change in the foreseeable future. However, this disappointing reality makes individual efforts to stop the gaps in mental health support even more essential. All university staff and faculty should be prepared to effectively direct students to the decentralized and limited resources that are currently available to them. And for those who have pledged improvements: keep your promises.
This is our health you’re talking about.