Categorized | Education

University of Guelph struggling to meet students’ mental health needs

Posted on 15 February 2017 by admin

It is the highest number of student suicides at University of Guelph in a single academic year.

“(It’s) very unusual,” said Brenda Whiteside, the university’s Associate Vice-President for Student Affairs, adding that there have been years when as many as two students have died by suicide.

The string of tragedies has generated serious concern in the student body about the quality and availability of mental health care on campus.

An online petitioned, calling for “change and transparency” in the school’s mental health services received more than 2,800 signatures within two weeks.

School officials and mental health experts say universities cannot be the sole source of help. They need the support and partnership of outside care providers to adequately meet the growing demand for mental health services amongst students.

The majority of mental health issues surface during a person’s teens and early 20s.

Because of age restrictions on many mental health care programs, young people are often forced to leave the services they have accessed for years, right around the time they begin university or college.

And life in post-secondary education comes with added challenges.

University of Guelph is now working with the Canadian Mental Health Association charity to address student mental health in the short and long term.

“The focus right now has been on this immediate situation and making sure students can get help,” said Fred Wagner, executive director of the CMHA’s Guelph and Waterloo-area branch.

“We’re really trying to ensure that the counsellors at the University of Guelph have support, and that we’re able to fill in any gaps.”

That has included bolstering the university’s counselling services with CMHA staff and co-ordinating drop-in clinics where crisis professionals are available to talk.

CMHA and the university are also discussing long-term plans for mental health and suicide prevention strategies.

Guelph currently has 14 counsellors, two psychiatrists, a medical clinic staffed by doctors with training in mental health, and specialized therapy groups.

Residence workers are trained to provide mental health support to the 5,000 students who live on campus. The university runs a peer support drop-in program that offers information, referral services and “non-judgmental listening,” noon to 10 p.m., Monday to Friday during the school year and noon to 8 p.m. during exams.

Students can also call a pair of local 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week helplines: Good2Talk and Here 24/7.

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