Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

Future Leaders Deserve Greater Access to Mental Health Resources

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Helping HandThis month, a student from Guelph University in Ontario, live-streamed his attempted suicide on the Internet to a chat room of viewers. The student was rescued by emergency services and survived his injuries, however, this episode raises extremely concerning questions about the apparent hopelessness and desperation that is leading young people to believe suicide is their only option.

Since no two suicidal circumstances are the same, the reasons for someone reaching this unfortunate conclusion vary from person to person. The university and college demographic share some overarching qualities that could contribute to a pattern of poor coping skills in this age group, including but not limited to:

  • Family and self-imposed academic expectations are unrealistically high
  • Difficult transition from living at home to living on their own
  • Inability to cope with exam pressure
  • Financial debt and student loans
  • Career and future economic success not guaranteed

While the reasons surrounding this Guelph student’s attempt are not publicly known, this case speaks to a much larger issue facing young Canadians, and the statistics in recent years are quite alarming:

  • Worldwide, youth suicides has tripled since 1950 for the 15-24 age group
  • In Canada, suicide is the 2nd highest cause of death for youth ages 19-24
  • In Canada, 300 youths die every year by suicide
  •  For every successful suicide, there are 400 attempts
  • New research shows that students are more likely to have suicidal ideation if they went to school with someone who died by suicide
  • Eight out of ten youth who attempt or die by suicide hint of their plans beforehand, often to a friend.*

This last statistic is a call to action for many of the resources available on campuses – If someone is able to pick up on a suicidal person’s cues and  learn of their intentions, there is a chance the suicide could be prevented, especially if professional help is quickly accessible. Most universities and colleges are equipped with Student Health Services, Professional Counsellors, Peer Networks, Student Support Associations and Community Resources.

These services offer quality assistance to those in need and have helped countless students overcome their personal obstacles, but the question remains: are they enough? Unfortunately, most of these services are only available during the school year and during working hours, which leaves students with limited options after hours, on weekends and during the summer months. The wait for students to see counsellors has increased, on average, to three-weeks and with campus resources working at their maximum capacity already, the demand for service is not being met sufficiently with existing internal resources.

What can you do to better meet the needs of your students? A Student Assistance Program is an opportunity to fill any gaps in the current internal student support systems by offering increased accessibility to a breadth of expert mental health services. Offering a preventative Student Assistance Program can provide students with access to psychological counselling before a full-blown crisis occurs.  A Student Assistance Program can also provide auxiliary services for legal, financial, nutrition, and lifestyle issues which can help mitigate the deleterious impact on the psychological well being of the student. Success in this endeavour has been demonstrated with collaboration between internal campus resources and external professional services by offering mental health resources that complement and augment existing internal resources. Implementing a fiscally responsible Student Assistance Program gives the gift of choice to your students, allowing them to take advantage of both campus and external mental health services around the clock. University and College stakeholders can rest easier knowing they are providing students more comprehensive care.

Don’t our future leaders deserve greater access, choice and expertise to support them through their mental health journey?

Have you implemented an SAP into your institution to complement services that already exist? What benefits have you seen with an SAP? I look forward to your thoughts below!

(* Statistics courtesy of Stats Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association and Canadian Medical Association Journal)

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