Why Universities Need To Improve Their Mental Health Services

Frosh week, orientation, figuring out your way around campus is something many of us have gone through in our first year of post-secondary education. When the excitement of university acceptance and campus tours die down, and months seem to pass by like weeks, finally lets into what many students will mask.

Finals season has just ended and this was a much overdue piece — in the midst of all the chaotic papers and exams I had to write, I came across a thread on Twitter by @vraymmondd about a university in my province hiding students’ suicides that started to circulate the Internet.

This was, in fact, no surprise to me because this isn’t the first time this has happened. Universities are hiding why students are committing suicide possibly to save the reputation of their institution. It’s troubling to think that universities prioritize their reputation over their students. The issue is much bigger here; students are unable to make their mental well-being a priority because of university and college itself.

Some may play devil’s advocate and say that students who are overwhelmed by coursework simply do not prioritize their time — in my opinion, they are fundamentally wrong. Many universities do not bother to keep track of how many of their students have committed suicide. This shows how many universities lack proper etiquette to even realize the issue and keep track of it in order to prevent it in the future.

“In a survey of Ontario’s 20 universities, the Star found that only about half keep any kind of formal statistics on the number of student suicides. Of those universities, several track only suicides that occur on their campus, meaning that any deaths that occur at a student’s off-campus residence or their family home does not get included in their tally.”

When universities find out about a student that attended their school who committed suicide, emails begin to circulate to inform the students and faculty of the tragedy that occurred. However, most universities won’t state the cause of death, which could be to save the reputation of the university as well. This shows once again the extent many universities will go in order to hide the truth from the community.

The real issue concerns the mental health services and facilities that are provided to university students. Living in a country like Canada, I have experienced how much our country prides itself on our free healthcare, but at what cost? Long waits, inability to get care when needed, getting treatment in hospital hallways, etc. Political debates and general fights people have regarding our country somehow always involve priding ourselves in our healthcare system, but the flaws in the system are hurting more people than helping.

Many students contemplate seeking mental health services and when they finally do, they’re generally put on a 2-3 week waiting list if the matters are not urgent. That alone is not healthy for someone who needs help — and when their turn finally arrives, the psychiatrist and/or therapist in question have to follow a clock and stop talking when the time is up because they don’t have the flexibility to be there for students outside of their one-hour appointments.

The solution is fixable: universities need to invest more in their mental health services and hire more professionals to shorten the waitlist times.

This may not fix the problem as a whole, but it will be able to help it and will be greatly beneficial for students. This has been an ongoing problem, not just in Ontario, Canada, but in many other countries as well. The long wait lists and wait times to seek help need to improve. Students need more than just pet dog events during finals season to cope with our declining mental health. Students need more counselors so that they are able to walk in and get immediate attention rather than being thrown onto a long waiting list. Universities need to invest more of their money in mental health services and have a faster process to help their students.