WOLFVILLE, NS - It’s an initiative that underlines the urgent need for action on student mental health.
Post-secondary students across Canada, including students at Acadia University in Wolfville, have launched a national campaign calling for greater mental health supports and resources, #StudentsLetsAct.
The campaign, an initiative of the Canadian Alliance of Students Associations (CASA), is calling on the federal government to expand the Canada Student Grant for students with permanent disabilities to also support those with temporary conditions. This is because of the episodic nature of many mental health issues.
CASA believes that providing more federal funding targeted at mental health initiatives and supports on Canadian campuses would be an immense help, considering that most campus services are severely overburdened and underfunded.
CASA also believes the federal government is well-placed to take the lead on collecting data on student mental health to better inform practices and policies across the country.
The Acadia Students’ Union (ASU) is a member of CASA. Vice-president academic and external Makenzie Branch said she and ASU president George Philp sit on a few CASA committees and Branch sits on the national advocacy committee.
“This year, we decided it would be a great time to run a national campaign and when we were narrowing in on topics, mental health was near the top of everyone’s list of important topics on their campus,” Branch said.
CASA developed the #StudentsLetsAct mental health campaign and Branch volunteered to organize the efforts at Acadia.
The campaign ran from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. At Acadia, it involved a table and display being set up outside the library in the Beveridge Arts Centre. There were pins, resources from the Acadia Mental Health Initiative and broken hearts made of paper.
Students wrote messages with reasons why mental health matters to them on the broken hearts. There was a backdrop to have photos taken with the paper hearts if students wished to share their message on social media.
All the broken hearts were prominently displayed so that students passing by could get a sense of what the campaign was all about and how mental health impacts their peers.
Branch said there was a great reaction from the student body, with more than 500 students stopping by the display over the three days to fill out a broken heart. They ran out by the second day and had to have more printed.
Once those ran out, students started signing an online letter with the same messaging as the hearts, to be sent to federal government representatives.
Branch said they received a lot of positive feedback. There were many students who stopped by the display multiple times because they were so pleased to see the campaign being undertaken on campus.
“Spreading awareness and creating standardized policy change and increasing supports on-campus across all universities in Canada is really what is going to help students in the future,” Branch said.
Now, resources can differ significantly from one campus to another. All students in Canada would have greater access to mental health services by increasing supports and resources at all institutions. Branch said that these resources are vital to succeeding in a post-secondary education system when dealing with mental health issues.
Student mental health a growing concern
CASA chairman Adam Brown said the campaign is an initiative being undertaken by 23 member student associations nationwide. One non-member organization signed on as well.
He said it could be an extremely stressful time in life as students are learning how to balance school with perhaps a part-time job, a social life and finding time for themselves.
“We’ve seen some concerning numbers over the last few years,” Brown said. “That is why we are doing this.”
He said nine per cent of post-secondary students were prescribed psychiatric medication in 1994, compared to 25 per cent in 2014.
“We need to make sure the federal government knows that students need adequate funding to support these needs,” Brown said.
All of the paper broken hearts signed across the country will be sent to CASA’s national office in Ottawa to be presented to the federal government as a physical demonstration illustrating the weight of the concern.
CASA represents approximately 280,000 post-secondary students from coast to coast.