Mental health isn’t the taboo topic it once was. Sure, the stigma surrounding mood disorders still exists, but we’ve done great things to bring these issues into the spotlight. Campaigns like #BellLetsTalk initiate great conversation and colleges and universities all have counselling services available for students. We’re making progress, right? Wrong.
Although it’s great that we’re starting to talk more about these things, the problem isn’t going away. In fact, it’s getting worse.
Suicide is responsible for 24% of all deaths in people aged 15 to 24 years old according to the Canadian Mental Health Association and the rates are rising. Cornell University in Ithaca, NY is famed for it’s beautiful gorges that surround the school. In 2012 the school installed seven steel mesh nets under the bridges leading to the school after six students committed suicide by jumping off the bridges they cross every day to get to class.
Queen’s University faced a similar epidemic with a series of 7 deaths, most by suicide, in a 14 month period. This passed school year 4 suicides have been documented at the University of Guelph, as well as 2 in the last semester at the University of Waterloo says CBC News.
A recent survey revealed that 89.5% of university students felt overwhelmed during the school year, 73.5% felt very sad, 70% experienced loneliness, 44% felt so depressed it was difficult to function, and 13% seriously contemplated suicide. The numbers are staggering, and in schools with tens of thousands of students, a single team of counsellors can’t handle the influx.
Ryerson University in Toronto has seen over a 200% increase in demand for counselling services according to Maclean’s, and the demands can’t be met. Wait times are long, and many schools don’t offer free long-term counselling or help that is covered by student insurance plans.
It could be that students are more comfortable seeking help as the stigma surrounding mood disorders slowly decreases, but there are other factors to consider. As Maclean’s points out, the standards for university acceptance are rising, as is the price of tuition, the job market looks grim, and students are forced to become more competitive. Mix in the fact that with technology constantly in use young adults are never able to fully “turn off” and relax; stress levels are going nowhere but up.
It’s scary, and university health clinics can’t handle this by themselves. We need to share the responsibility and do our part to help this generation of students who are drowning in feelings of isolation and unhappiness. As teachers, professionals, fellow students, programmers and speakers we need to make sure that we continue this important conversation. That we bring forth useful and impactful resources. That we expend our energy letting those who are struggling know that they are not alone, they matter, and most importantly that we are here for them and we are ready to fight with and for them. Because this isn’t going away; it will only get worse unless we stand together and do something about it.