Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Part 2 of 3: The Under-serviced Student

mental-health-ireland-390x285“We’re seeing twice as many kids as we were 10 years ago” Dr. Hazen Gandy of the psychiatry division at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. Dr. Hazen is referencing the growing number of teenagers presenting themselves at emergency rooms across Canada, with self-inflicted injuries and suicidal thoughts.

From 2009/2010 to 2012/2013, this Ontario hospital reported a 64% spike in hospital visits for mental health issues, which has led to overcrowded wait rooms and overburdened hospital beds. Statistics of this magnitude should shock us, but more importantly, we should be concerned as to the availability of resources to the rising number of teens who need them.

In some cases, chronic and long-term mental illness can lead to suicide ideation and attempts in teenagers, although mental health professionals are finding that more and more students do not fit the traditional criteria for disorders associated with self-harm and suicidal ideation. Instead, they are average students who suddenly don’t feel like they can manage.

Part 1 of this 3-part blog series explored the profile of a university/college student in 2014, where performance stressors, academics and financial pressures and “helicopter parents” all contributed to a deficiency of coping skills in this demographic. Simply put in economical terms, the supply is not meeting the increased demand for mental health services across Canada. But remember, these statistics only reflect the number of students who present their symptoms at emergency rooms – in effect, some of the most extreme suicidal episodes. That leaves a massively under-serviced student population who might be on outpatient counselling waiting lists and not necessarily acting on their negative emotions and thoughts, at this time.

With misdiagnoses, exhausted counselling resources, few affordable options and societal misperceptions of mental illness, we are only beginning to understand that the mental health care system currently in place is not meeting the needs of our young people. When a cultural crisis like this takes place, anything less than a concentrated overhaul in the way we perceive mental health is a Band-Aid solution that treats the symptoms of the trends we’re seeing, and not the causes.

In my next blog, and the final piece in this series, I will explore our call to action in our homes, workplaces and community, when it comes to supporting our students. What are your thoughts on the rise of mental health issues in the student demographic? Some mental health professionals are tentatively calling it an “epidemic” – do you think this is accurate? I look forward to your thoughts below.

Sources:

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/4414618-canadian-mental-health-services-strained-as-self-harming-teens-seek-help/

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Part 1 of 3: Today’s Post-Secondary School Student

o-MULTITASKING-facebookStudents entering college or university several decades ago lived a very different experience than today’s student: They used landlines, hand-wrote their essays and researched topics using only library books and encyclopedias. Today’s university student is a millennial, born between 1980 and 1994, and while this student benefits from smaller cellphones and Internet access, they embody a host of generation-specific difficulties when adapting to post-secondary education, most notably, mental health issues.

So what does today’s university and college student look like?

“Helicopter” Parents: The average student often comes from a very supportive familial unit, where parents are very involved with their child’s life, including their extra-curricular activities, academics and social calendar. Sometimes, this involvement leads to underdeveloped coping and problem-solving skills in children, because they learn that their parents want to protect them from difficulty or discomfort. This can result in university-aged students who have trouble managing stress and conflict when they experience the independent lifestyle of post-secondary education.

 Academic Pressures: Striving for individuality and well roundedness has become the goal for this generation, with a huge emphasis being placed on academic success. With this cultural pressure, a lack of consistency exists between school boards when it comes to grading and measurement of knowledge. Studies have found that students come into university or college with inflated high school grades, which can negatively affect self-esteem when entering post-secondary schooling where students are not earning the kind of grades they are used to.

Financial Stress: With the growing cultural expectation that you MUST have a degree in order to get a good job, many families cannot afford to put all of their post-secondary-bound children through school without help. Tuition rates are rising along with the cost of living, and many students rely on government funding to put themselves through school. And once students have graduated and have their degree in hand, they are left with monumental student debt and often limited job prospects.

Technology and Social Media savvy: Millennials are the most technologically connected of the generations, keeping in touch with friends and relatives all-too-easily through various social venues like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This constant barrage of information can lead to social anxiety and the idea that “everyone else is smarter, more successful, and has more friends than me”. With technology and mobile addiction on the rise, students are not developing vital interpersonal skills the way they have in the past, which can lead to feelings of social isolation – ironic when these are the same students with hundreds of Facebook Friends!

Today’s university and college student is bright, ambitious and well-connected and their unique challenges differ greatly from generations past. Part 2 of this series will discuss the need for change and implementation of more comprehensive support for this greatly underserviced demographic. With college and university student suicide rates on the rise in past years, mental health and mental illness need to be made a top priority. After reading this blog, do you notice any other characteristics that today’s post-secondary student embodies? I look forward to your comments below.

Sources:

http://www.collegequarterly.ca/2013-vol16-num01-winter/flatt.html

http://globalnews.ca/news/548478/young-minds-millennials-facing-increased-rates-of-stress-compared-to-other-generations/


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Future Leaders Deserve Greater Access to Mental Health Resources

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)