The number of students accessing university mental health services has doubled
peer support centre is slated to open this year in light of increasing demand for mental health services for students at the University of Windsor.
Figures from the university’s Student Counselling Centre reveal a 100 per cent increase in students accessing mental health services at the school since 2005.
Session hours have increased by 43 per cent since 2008 to a total of 3,500 hours of direct service to students. The average amount of session hours per student has increased from 2.5 hours to five hours as well.
“That’s a lot of students, a lot of hours,” said Dr. Mohsan Beg, psychologist and clinical director at the Student Counselling Centre. He identified depression, anxiety and difficulties with school and family relationships as the most prominent issues.
Beg said more students are using health services for a number of reasons including: heightened use of medications for mental health issues, better support for students who might not otherwise have access to it, and an increased awareness of issues at the primary and secondary level means post-secondary students are already using mental health services.
The University of Windsor is unique in that the Student Counselling Centre is funded only through the operating budget. Most universities have additional funding provided through student ancillary fees. Beg explained that the centre is going through the same financial constraints that the rest of the university is, but he added that, “I know they’re responsive to it, the needs for mental health.”
Beg proposed the creation and funding of a peer support centre to board members during a July 10 University of Windsor Students’ Alliance meeting.
Beg explained that when in need, most people go to their peers first before seeking a professional. The Peer Support Centre, which was approved by UWSA board of directors, will be a point of contact for students seeking counselling. Volunteers at the centre will be trained in suicide prevention and listening skills, and can refer students elsewhere if needed.
Unlike the Student Counselling Centre, the Peer Support Centre will be able to offer evening hours to meet the demands of students’ schedules.
Envisioned as a “for students, by students” initiative, the centre, to be temporarily located in the Clubs Room on the second floor of the CAW Student Centre, will be headed by a graduate psychology student. The $10,000 salary for the student running the centre will be split evenly by the university and the UWSA, a figure that Beg sees as a small cost to help students and alleviate the workload of the Student Counselling Centre.
The amount of staff has increased, but the SCC continues to struggle. “Our mandate is short-term therapy,” said Beg. “But increasingly we are seeing students who require more long-term therapy.”
“The benefit of short-term therapy is you get to see more people. The downside is you get a revolving door. I see [a student] for four or five sessions, but we don’t get into the deeper problems,” Beg added.
Deb McNally, a fourth-year psychology student has accessed services at SCC. “I think we’re really lucky to have something like this on campus,” she said. “It could be useful to a lot of people even if they don’t have a diagnosed mental illness.”
“It’s generally one-on-one,” McNally said of the sessions. “They have groups you can go to, which isn’t my thing, but I know people do go to them. They’re very encouraging to get you to a spot where you want to be and meet your own goals.”
Beg said that for long-term care, depending on the student’s needs, they are sometimes referred to community services or the Psychological Services and Research Centre on Sunset Avenue, where students can receive therapy free of charge. “There are places such as the Teen Health Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association, but they fill up pretty quick,” Beg said.
Student Health Services provides mental health services as well. “It’s a very common reason for a visit here at the clinic,” said Alexandra Figaro, a family physician at Student Health Services. Part-time psychiatrists were brought on several years ago once SHS recognized the need, and administrators hope to increase the hours offered.
Both Figaro and Beg stated that if a student is experiencing difficulties and thinks that something might be wrong, even if they are not sure what the problem is, they should seek assistance before it gets worse.
A recent paper from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, “Student Health: Bringing Healthy Change to Ontario’s Universities,” explains that many campuses are reporting an increase in use of mental health services. The University of Guelph’s online mental health awareness program reports a 10 to 15 per cent increase in the number of students who access the school’s counselling services each year for the last five years.
OUSA’s paper, published and submitted to the Ontario government in May, outlines the current status of health and health services for Ontario’s post-secondary students. According to the paper, mental health issues cost Ontario an estimated $39 billion annually, mostly through productivity losses. It advocates for dedicated funding from the government to improve mental health services and urges student counselling centres to run anti-stigma initiatives.
College and university is when students often first encounter mental health issues, according to OUSA’s paper. Students are studying away from home, away from the friends and family who they rely on for support, in a demanding and competitive environment.