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Student mental health services expanding at Alberta universities, colleges

University and college students who feel stressed, isolated or overwhelmed will have more mental health professionals and services to stay mentally healthy.

The University of Alberta, University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge will each receive $3 million in grant funding over three years to expand campus mental health services and develop models of care that can be used on campuses across Alberta. The Alberta Students Executive Council will receive $1.5 million over three years to support all post-secondary students’ associations in implementing mental health programs.

“Helping students learn to cope is just as important as helping them learn. If students come forward to seek help, the resources need to be there,” said Fred Horne, Minister of Health. “This is an investment in the mental health of our next generation of community leaders.”

The $10.5 million in funding will help expand campus mental health services through additional staff - including psychologists, physiologists, clinical social workers, physicians, psychiatric nurses, counselors, and mental health practitioners. Initiatives set to begin as a result of the funding include developing a mental health curriculum and piloting a mental health triage program. The grants will also pay for staff training on mental health issues.

In a study during the spring 2011 term, students at the University of Alberta reported a higher level of mental health issues than the North American average. Just over 1 per cent of students reported a suicide attempt, and around 7 per cent seriously thought of suicide. At the University of Calgary, severe psychiatric disorders have increased 5.6 times since 2005-06. At the University of Lethbridge there has been a 76 per cent increase in booked counseling sessions in the past five years.

Program partners said the following:

“As places of higher learning, we need to be innovative in how we're helping our students succeed, and part of that is how we promote mental health in our campus communities,” said Frank Robinson, dean of students at the University of Alberta. “We know student life can oftentimes be stressful, so we have to be proactive. We have to reach out to students so they know there are a lot of ways we can help them, and they know where to turn.”

“This funding will have a direct impact on the lives of students at the University of Calgary,” said Elizabeth Cannon, president of the University of Calgary. “It will allow us to enrich the overall student experience and provide a broader range of services to support the unique personal and academic pressures facing students today. This type of support is critically important if they are to reach their potential in their programs, careers and lives.”

“The University of Lethbridge puts tremendous emphasis on the student experience,” said Mike Mahon, University of Lethbridge president. “This includes ensuring timely and comprehensive mental health supports are available for our students. This investment greatly benefits the U of L students at our three campuses in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge by helping those with immediate problems and by mitigating future issues using preventative measures.”

"As students from across the province juggle competing demands of academic performance, financial pressures, career development, part-time work and family life, access to on-campus mental health services has become an increasingly important element of student success,” said Matthew Armstrong, Chair, Alberta Students' Executive Council. “Today's announcement will provide numerous opportunities to address gaps in service delivery, help students adopt healthy coping strategies, and create community- and student-led initiatives that will raise awareness of this important issue."

Funding for post-secondary psychological services is part of the first stage of implementing Alberta’s Addiction and Mental Health Strategy.

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January 16, 2013
Mental Health needs assessments at Alberta’s universities

University of Alberta

During the spring 2011 term, the University of Alberta participated in a National College Health Assessment survey to better understand its students’ health issues, needs and experiences:

  • Students at the University of Alberta reported a higher level of mental health issues than the North American reference group.
  • 18 per cent of students-almost one in five-felt socially isolated. Isolation is an important indicator in mental illness and threat assessment.
  • 1.2 per cent of students reported having attempted suicide the previous year. With an enrolment of about 38,600, that’s about 463 students.
  • 4.8 per cent (1,853 students) self-harmed.
  • 6.8 per cent (2,625 students) thought seriously about committing suicide the previous year.

University of Lethbridge

The University of Lethbridge provided counseling data to illustrate their need for expanded mental health services:

  • Currently, the University of Lethbridge has one full-time equivalent (FTE) counselor for every 1,950 students. The International Association of Counselling Services Inc. recommends a minimum ratio of one FTE professional staff member for every 1,000 - 1,500 students.
  • There has been a 76 per cent increase in booked counseling sessions in the past five years.

University of Calgary

The University of Calgary provided different data to illustrate its need for expanded student mental health services:

  • Currently, the University of Calgary has one FTE counselor for every 4,300 students.
  • More students presented with mental health problems at the University of Calgary Wellness Centre in 2011-12 than in the previous year.
  • Severe psychiatric disorders, although a very small percentage of total appointments, have increased 5.6 times since 2005-06.

Media inquiries may be directed to:
Bart Johnson
Press Secretary
Minister of Health
780-446-9190 (cell)

To call toll free within Alberta dial 310-0000.