EXCLUSIVE SERIES: THE KIDS ARE NOT OK: The COVID effect on post-secondary students - Part 3

The Kids Are Not OK

Today, as mental health awareness week concludes and we look ahead to the Thanksgiving long weekend, we bring you part 3 of our NEWSTALK1010 exclusive series - THE KIDS ARE NOT OK: The COVID effect on post-secondary students.

Over the past few days you've heard stories from students about their mental health struggles as they try to navigate university in the middle of a pandemic.

You've heard about the major demand for resources: calls to crisis lines are way up, and students are accessing mental health services in droves, numbers like we've never seen before.

Today, reporter Ashley Legassic speaks with the minister responsible for colleges and universities. Does he know how bad things are? What is the government going to do to help students get the support they need?

 

We asked Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano: are you aware of how badly some post-secondary students are suffering?

"Of course we're aware, that's why we're having this conversation," he said.

Even though we've seen a jump in students calling crisis lines and reaching out to counselling services, we thankfully haven't seen the same for suicides at this point. But Romano says, no matter what, a student should never get to that feeling of hopelessness and despair.

"To think that any student out there feels a level of hopelessness, that they would take their own life, it is such an unfortunate situation - that doesn't even begin to describe it," Romano tells NEWSTALK1010. "There's no doubt that we want to make all the investments we can to prevent those."

And investments have been made, the province announced on October 6 that it would be pouring just over $19 million into expanding mental health services for post-secondary students. But where exactly will that money go - how will it change things?

Romano says just over half that money will go toward front-line, campus-based mental health workers, and the development of on-campus programs.

"It depends on what services they believe they need," Romano says. "The funding that would go into the system would ensure that they have more access to more services that they would need. At each individual institution you could be dealing with different supports that they'd want to invest in."

Seeing that funding, and developing those programs will take time, solutions aren't going to happen overnight. So is this announcement enough?

"It's certainly a time when we need support and it's nice to see them kind of do this broad-ranging investment in a number of different areas that could help children in a variety of different ways," says University of Toronto Psychology Professor Steve Joordens.

Joordens says in terms of a treatment approach, this announcement is ticking all the right boxes. But there's a side that's missing.

"I think it's great that assistance might be more easily available," Joordens says. "I think we all could really benefit from learning a lot more about the mind, how it works, I'm hoping a lot of the stigma around mental illness goes away."

Joordens wants to see more of an emphasis put on prevention. He says yes, treatment is important, but getting ahead of mental illness, teaching kids while they're young about it, putting money into resources that help with that, would make a huge difference. But it can be a tough sell.

"Prevention generally pays off, but it's not sexy," Joordens says. "You don't win Nobel Prizes by preventing a disease, oddly, you win them by treating them. So very often our society is focused on this treatment kind of model - you wait for something bad to happen and then you do something about it."