Commission recommends schools integrate mental health into operations

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TORONTO — The Mental Health Commission of Canada is recommending that colleges and universities integrate student well-being into every aspect of schools’ operations.

The commission, which gets its mandate from the federal government, makes the recommendation in a review draft of mental health standards for Canadian post-secondary institutions.

The document, posted online last month and up for public review until November, is part of the commission’s efforts to address what it describes as a “burgeoning need” for access to mental-health care on campus.

The voluntary guidelines suggest factoring mental well-being into the “whole institutional environment,” with systems in place to ensure students have the support they need.

Sandra Koppert, director of programs and priorities for the commission, says specifics are deliberately scarce in the guidelines.

She says that makes the standard applicable to vastly different schools with varying needs.

“We know that every institution is already doing so much, but how can they learn from each other moving forward?” she said.

The voluntary standards say institutions that sign on to them must “establish and maintain an action plan” that they will update as more information becomes available.

The standard also encourages schools to intervene early in potential mental health crises.

“Post-secondary institutions shall use a variety of methods to identify students whose psychological health and safety may be at risk and to reach out to students in need,” it reads. “Early recognition requires the attention of all members of the campus community to not only recognize students in distress, but to be aware of early warning signs that students may be struggling.”

To accomplish that, schools should educate students and staff about mental well-being, the draft says.

The guidelines, which were created with the CSA Group certification body and input from various stakeholders, are just one piece of the commission’s campaign to better address mental health on Canadian campuses.

It’s also helped to launch an online training program for students that’s been picked up by 29 post-secondary institutions.

Earlier this year, about 55,000 students across 58 post-secondary schools responded to a survey that indicated more than 60 per cent of them were dealing with above average or “tremendous” stress levels.

The National College Health Assessment also found that 23 per cent of respondents had been diagnosed with anxiety, and 19 per cent had a depression diagnosis.

Those numbers were up from 2013, when 38,000 students from 32 schools were surveyed; at that time, 12.3 per cent of students had an anxiety diagnosis, and 10 per cent had been diagnosed with depression.

 

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press