As awareness of the pressure students are facing grows, post-secondary institutions are increasingly concerned with students’ mental health needs and putting support systems in place. But nation-wide, universities agree: more can be done.
With the news that King’s has been awarded a Bell Let’s Talk grant, there is a new opportunity to develop the mental health programs needed.
Launched in 2010, Bell Let’s Talk is the largest-ever corporate commitment to mental health in Canada. In a press release, Bell Let’s Talk states the program is “accelerating the good work already being done” in Canada’s colleges and universities to support the mental well-being of students.
The statistics show that help is needed. In a 2019 National College Health Assessment poll, 52% of students said they were so depressed the previous year it was difficult to function; 69% reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety.”
The grant encourages colleges and universities to meet the goals set out by the new National Standard of Canada for Mental Health and Well-Being for Post-Secondary Students. The first program of its kind in the world, the National Standard is a set of flexible, voluntary guidelines to help post-secondary institutions support the mental health and well-being of students.
An online starter kit is available to help post-secondary institutions take their first steps in aligning with the National Standard.
Students at King’s have access to a variety of services for addressing mental health issues, including social workers, a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline, Dalhousie’s Health and Wellness Clinic, which is open to King’s students and, for faculty and staff, a guide is available to help them recognize and respond to students in distress.
King’s deans and dons—both of whom reside on campus—provide yet one more support system.
King’s Dean of Students, Katie Merwin, can already see the benefits the grant funding will bring.
“Many if not most students experience the highs and lows of transitioning to university,” says Merwin. “With COVID, it’s been that much more difficult. The lack of in-person connections as a result of COVID, how it gets in the way of students being able to build relationships with each other, with faculty, with deans and dons, with peer support workers. At times like this, you see how critical these relationships are.”
Merwin lauds the National Standard program and how it is flexible, voluntary and not prescriptive. She can see how it will help institutions develop their own roadmaps for finding out what is effective in supporting students and student wellness. With grant funding now secured, she is already looking forward to getting started.
“Before you make plans for where you want to go,” says Merwin, “you first have to understand where you are, so these funds will be used to assess the services, supports and resources already in place, with an aim to better understand how they are, or are not, meeting students’ needs. We’ll be able to better understand how we are already serving students and, from there, we can make positive improvements that will be that much more meaningful. It’s a very exciting time!”