The numbers behind mental health issues and initiatives at U of G   


Get the stats to keep the conversation going

Experts are concerned about the mental health crisis in Canada due to increases in: mental health issues, people seeking out mental health services, and funding for mental health resources. Recently, mental health discussions have been front and center in the media, with the Royals speaking up and TV shows such as 13 Reasons Why sparking conversation.

The University of Guelph found itself to be part of the conversation during the winter 2017 semester, as the number of student deaths due to mental health continued to rise.

Major news outlets picked up the story, while students and alumni pushed for the University to do more.

Mental health is a rising issue, specifically in adolescents and young adults. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15–29 year olds,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mental health issues

U of G continues to see an increase in mental health issues, most of which are on par with increases seen across Canada.

The National College Health Assessment (NCHA) is a health survey completed by students on post-secondary campuses across Canada every three years. The 2016 survey indicated that one in four U of G students reported a mental health concern.

Within the last year students reported experiencing… Percent increase 2013–2016
Feeling hopeless 11%
Feeling overwhelmed 0.5%
Feeling exhausted (mentally) 3%
Feeling very lonely 5%
Feeling very sad 9%
Feeling depressed (to the point of difficulty functioning) 22%
Overwhelming anxiety 13%
Overwhelming anger 16%
Seriously considered suicide 24%
Attempted suicide No increase
Intentionally injured self 30%

 

There is not one specific reason for the continuous rise in mental health issues, but one influencing factor may be stigma. Many mental health organizations and campaigns have been working to reduce stigma associated with mental health.

The normalization of mental health issues and the push for people to be mentally healthy may be encouraging people to come forward who would not have in the past.

Despite the push to reduce stigma, WHO still notes that “stigma and discrimination against patients and families prevent people from seeking mental health care.” This can be seen at the University of Guelph. The NCHA asked if students would seek out a mental health professional if they were having difficulties. The 2016 results saw that 81 per cent of students would seek out help. Notably, fewer males (73  per cent) than females (84 per cent) would seek assistance.

Mental health services

The use of mental health services in Guelph has also increased.

Guelph General Hospital’s (GGH) emergency department saw a 13 per cent increase in mental health–related visits in the last two years.

The distress line run by the Canadian Mental Health Association (Waterloo Wellington) saw a 4 per cent increase in individuals calling, and a 1 per cent increase in total calls in the last year. In the last two years there has been a 2 per cent decrease in individual calls due to a spike in the 2014–2015 school year.

U of G’s counselling services has seen increases in all types of appointments.

Type of Appointment Percent increase from 2011–2012
to 2015–2016 school years
Counselling 11%
Walk-in 29%
Intake 8%

 

Overall, the amount of students seen by counselling services has increased 24 per cent over a five-year period. Additionally, visits to a physician on campus for mental health reasons have increased 89 per cent in the last two years.

Academic performance

The NCHS shows that anxiety continues to be a top impediment to academic performance. In 2016, 34 per cent of U of G students stated that anxiety had a negative impact on their academics, a 6 per cent increase from 2013.

The 2016 results saw depression added to the top impediments of academic performance, with 21 per cent of U of G students reporting that depression affected their school work.

At U of G there are academic accommodations that can be made through Student Accessibility Services (SAS) for students who experience mental health issues, including (but not limited to):

  • Change in tuition for reduced course load
  • Deadline adjustments
  • Note taking assistance
  • Additional time for tests
  • Different environments for classes or tests.

The use of SAS for mental health reasons increased 104 per cent between the 2011–2012 and 2015–2016 school years.

The 2016–2017 figures are not fully compiled, but Barry Praamsma-Townshend, the manager of SAS, noted that the 2016–2017 “mental health caseload was up by roughly 30 per cent.”

Tasha Falconer

Mental health funding

To address the Canadian mental health crisis, funding has been increased.

In July 2016, the government of Ontario provided $3 million to expand emergency mental health services in Wellington County.

The GGH received approximately $2.4 million of that funding.

Three areas of focus were set for GGH:

  1. Making improvements at GGH
  2. Improving the emergency mental health unit
  3. Creating a mental health urgent care center

By October 2016 many changes had been implemented. Additional staff was added to the mental health team, including two half-time psychiatrists, a program manager, social work staff, nurses, an addictions counsellor, an occupational therapist, and a project lead.

One of the main goals of the additional staff was to provide assistance 24 hours a day. Safe rooms were also created.

In early 2015 the government gave approximately $800,000 to the University of Guelph to improve mental health, particularly for Aboriginal and first-year students.

In the last two years the overall health budget at U of G has gone up 22 per cent.

Although the health budget includes more than just mental health, Brenda Whiteside, the associate vice president (student affairs), noted that it is difficult to parse out mental health specifically due to the “integrated approach.” She said that the University of Guelph has “invested in lots of preventative issues such as training, early warning systems etc.”

The integrated and proactive approach to mental health is part of the 2016 framework. This framework was created by the Advisory Committee on Mental Health and Wellness, which was formed in 2014. Some of the changes include new positions, such as a mental health care coordinator and the revival of house calls.

Image by Tasha Falconer.

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