“There is absolutely a negative stigma around mental illness. In society, it has been [taught to]us to think that mental illness is a huge problem and that it’s negative and dangerous, but that isn’t true,” said fourth-year University of Calgary psychology student Chantai Minet.
Students have a lot on their plates, and a huge array of factors can affect their mental, social and emotional well-being. This January, the Alberta government invested $9 million in Alberta universities to enhance programs that help students with mental health and addictions.
Over three years, the U of C, the University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge will each receive $3 million.
The U of C will use the money to enhance current programming and increase education surrounding mental health for students and staff.
Director of the U of C Students’ Union Wellness Centre Debbie Bruckner said negative views surrounding mental illnesses and addictions hinder the ability to help those in need.
“Young people’s mental health has been a very critical topic in North American post-secondary institutions because over the last five to 10 years, it has become a bigger and bigger concern,” said Bruckner.
Bruckner said there continues to be an increase in the number of students who are seeking help, however, the percentage of those affected with a mental illness who seek help is still very low.
She added that fewer than 10 per cent of students who are feeling symptoms of a mental illness seek help.
“We know that next to car accidents, death by suicide is the leading cause of death for young people,” said Bruckner.
The most common mental health disorders for students are depression, anxiety and stress.
“If a young person learns how to manage academic, societal and financial issues and their own emotional health, they will become more successful academically and in any other area of their life,” said Bruckner.
With the extra funding, the U of C will increase the number of psychologists within the Wellness Centre, begin a mental health triage program and add nursing and reception staff to increase their service capacity.
Minet feels that education is one of the most important ways to eradicate the negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness.
“Especially in pop culture, media and TV shows, there’s always stereotypes where mental illness is made out to be the villain,” said Minet. “If people were more educated about why mental illnesses happen and how people can get help, it would greatly change how people view them.”
The U of C will be moving forward with a plan to educate staff and faculty in the university about how to support students experiencing mental health distress. She said the investment will open more doors for students.
“It’s almost overwhelming. Conceptually, that amount of money was really close to our yearly budget,” said Bruckner. “We have to find a way to help every student maintain their mental health and we now have the opportunity to do that.”
SU vice-president Hayley Wade was optimistic about the investment.
“Students face a variety of issues every day and maintaining mental health is one of those issues that all students face in one form or another,” said Wade.