Mental health has long been a pressing concern for post-secondary students in Canada. The 2016 National College Health Association survey of Canadian post-secondary students shows that a significant and growing number of students are experiencing mental health problems and illnesses: 44.4% of surveyed students reported that at some point in the previous twelve months they felt “so depressed it was difficult to function”; 13% had seriously considered suicide; 2.1% had attempted suicide, and 18.4% reported being “diagnosed or treated by a professional” for anxiety. These alarming statistics are underscored by research that indicates “up to 75 percent of mental health problems have an age of onset occurring in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood.” These facts tell us that mental health support is incredibly important for young people grappling with the stress of the transition to post-secondary education and entry into the full-time workforce.
Unfortunately, student mental health has been made considerably worse by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Students and recent graduates have been experiencing unprecedented levels of social isolation, poor job prospects, and increased financial strain at a uniquely difficult point in their lives. According to a recent CASA survey, 7-in-10 students reported feeling stressed, anxious, or isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with 75% reporting that the crisis will have a negative impact on their finances and employment situation beyond 2020. Statistics Canada also notes that the percentage of Canadians aged 15-34 who report their mental health as “excellent” or “very good” has decreased more than almost 20% since the onset of the pandemic. More needs to be done to #CloseTheGaps in mental health support for Canadian students as they struggle with the implications of post-secondary education and COVID-19.
Recognizing these troubling trends, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, CASA recommends that the Government of Canada do the following to #CloseTheGaps in post-secondary mental health support:
- Provide a new funding envelope to provinces for targeted on-campus mental health investments in an effort to deepen federal support for post-secondary student mental health.
- Commit additional long-term funding to the Wellness Together portal in an effort to expand its reach and build-up its scope of services to make virtual mental health services more accessible across the country.