Recent surveys launched by both the ACMH-NCHA (2013) and ACMHI (2014, 1,482 responses from 14 students’ associations) provide some insight into the needs of Alberta’s post-secondary students, regarding their overall mental and physical well-being. In the past year:
- About 70% of students faced significant stress frequently.
- Almost 60% of students were overwhelmed with their workload.
- More than 50% of students felt things were hopeless.
- 3 in 10 students felt too depressed to function.
Despite the fact that many students require some form of mental health support, almost 60% of students rarely receive help with mental health when they need it, while 32% of students admit they have unhealthy methods of coping with stress. Even if students prioritized mental health as an immediate concern and sought help, more than 40% of students are unaware or unsure of how to access mental health services on their own campus! This, coupled with the lengthy wait-times associated with mental health services currently available on campuses, contributes to the evident decline in post-secondary student mental health in Alberta.
For the past two years and for this upcoming year, ACMHI continues to play an active role in supporting students' ability to address the mental health challenges on their campus. So far, over $900,000 has been awarded to 14 students’ associations to tackle mental health issues using innovative approaches. Each students’ association hosts mental health initiatives specific to the needs identified as a priority on their campus. In recent years, students held awareness and stigma reduction campaigns; hosted stress reduction events and workshops promoting mental, physical and financial wellness; and provided a variety of supplemental services to baseline mental health services already available on campus (see Tables 1 and 2 for a summary of ACMHI initiatives and outcomes). More specifically, 9 students’ associations were able to implement peer support initiatives (i.e. train student volunteers as peer counsellors) -- a significant improvement from ACMHI’s first year and a key way to tackle the problems that stem from lengthy wait-times when seeking professional help.
Nearly 140,000 students were reached through these student-led mental health initiatives. An outpouring of support has come not only from students but from campus leaders and community members: over 250 community and campus connections have been established, with approximately 200 mental health supporters. Furthermore, 9 students’ associations created mental health committees to oversee and maintain these initiatives, and ensure that post-secondary mental health remains a priority on their campus. The community and campus partnerships, as well as the creation of mental health committees, provides a more sustainable foundation for future mental health initiatives undertaken by students’ associations.
So, how are actual post-secondary students responding to the mental health initiatives carried out by their respective students’ associations? More than 60% of students have now seen, or are now aware of, mental health related events on campus. This is more than a third of Alberta post-secondary students aware of ACMHI initiatives last year! Furthermore, nearly 40% of the students that participated in or accessed these services found them to be very helpful. We leave you with some of the direct student feedback received:
- “Getting involved in peer counselling was a defiant stepping stone towards my career. My overall experience was terrific and I would recommend it for anyone. The knowledge gained from this program is life-long and helps with all aspects of our daily lives as well as professional life. Thank you for the unforgettable experience and to everyone that invested their efforts and power towards helping us become better people and better helpers.” – Peer Counsellor, on SAGPRC’s Peer Counselling Program
- “I wanted to talk to someone because I was overwhelmed with my finance issues and stress from school, work and my family. After I talked to the Peer Counsellor, I decided that I would go and exercise that day and eat healthier, and make more time for myself without feeling it was selfish. I was thankful for the person helping me and was very relieved.” – Student, on SAGPRC’s Peer Counselling Program
- “I believe it gave me the tools to combat stress at home, and how to use it against anxiety.” – Student, on mental health tips included in SANQC’s online magazine
- “You seriously need to implement this more than once a month… Please double the frequency of this program.” – Student, on NAITSA’s Wellness Week
- "Love having this every month. It's definitely a great thing to have, it makes stress and tension in my life a lot better." - Student, on NAITSA’s Wellness Week
- "It helps me to reduce negative thoughts. I hope this event can be held every week." - Student, on SAITSA’s meetUP Support Group Event
- "Having these programs at school is such a good idea. Being able to talk about and discuss important health issues while at school is important because it's difficult to find time for it outside of school. It's a great way to take a break from the day!" – Student, on ACADSA’s Lunch ‘n’ Learns
- "It definitely gives the feeling of integration. I get at least a small sense of security knowing that I'm not the only one with these problems." – Student, on ACADSA’s Stress Management Seminars
Here’s to continued success in our third year! Remember, ACMHI applications for the 2015-16 year are due in a week: July 15th, 2015!