When a close friend of mine revealed to his parents that he was considering the idea of dropping out of university, he told them that he just wasn’t the academic type and didn’t want to waste more money on his post-secondary education. When that same friend revealed to me that he was thinking of leaving university, he told me it was because he had done nothing but think about suicide since he began his first year. Whether you think his decision was foolish or not, whether you are snickering while reading this or feeling empathetic, the fact remains that mental health issues are a huge area of concern for university students.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services conducted a survey of a little more than 43,000 students on campuses across this country from 41 different schools on a variety of topics. These topics ranged from alcohol use to the number of students who wore helmets while riding their bikes. What stuck out the most for me was the number of these students who reported experiencing struggles with mental health. Of the surveyed students, 32.5% reported anxiety as a main factor that affects performance at school. Likewise, 21% reported symptoms of depression played a part, 28.4% indicated sleeping difficulties as an issue, and 42.2% said that stress was an area of concern. 13% of students who completed the survey report seriously considering suicide within the last 12 months. The upsetting thing about these numbers is that they do not surprise me at all. But when will the numbers be enough?
Wolfville is a wonderful town that is home to a fantastic university. The students here, for the most part, take care of one another and welcome the beautiful diversity that is our campus. Acadia has been proud of being one of the strongest communities of the East coast universities. But it is no longer enough to claim this title. We need to show it. Our community is lacking mental health resources, and it is time to provide struggling students with the support that they need.
Don’t get me wrong. I am aware that mental health services do exist in our community. The counselling centre on campus and Annapolis Valley Health are excellent options. But there are some draw backs to only having two main professional centres for students to turn to. For one, the wait times are not ideal. It is disheartening to know that professionals can only take so many appointments on due to the ratio of students versus counsellors. This is not a fault of any person, but a fault of the system. Moreover, travelling to AVH is unfortunately not a realistic option for some people. In addition to the unreliability of the transit system, many students do not have the funds to routinely take a cab to the offices. Severe mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts, depression, and anxiety need to be worked on regularly. It is not enough to see a professional occasionally, and then hope for the best.
I know that these things are not black and white. I know that it would take a lot of effort to make resources more accessible, and I know there are factors that I haven’t even considered in this article. All that I am asking is that we open the dialogue more and try to brain storm ways that we, as a community, can make mental health support more of a priority. Students should not have to choose between their education and their mental well-being. It is possible to have both.