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Survey of 25,000 students found rise in rates of anxiety, depression and suicide attempts

Ontario colleges and universities are facing a mental health crisis as campus counsellors are overwhelmed by the growing need for services, according to a new study from the provincial association that represents heath service providers on campuses.

“I don’t want to be too hyperbolic, but the truth is, lives are at stake,” said Meg Houghton, president of the Ontario University and College Health Association (OUCHA). She said she hopes the dire numbers encourage the province to create a co-ordinated on-campus strategy to stem the tide.

OUCHA published the results from a survey of more than 25,000 students attending Ontario colleges and universities in the spring of 2016. The survey suggests rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as suicide attempts are up from its first survey in 2013.

Among the major findings:

  • 65 per cent of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the previous year (up from 57 per cent in 2013).
  • 46 per cent reported feeling so depressed in the previous year it was difficult to function (up from 40 per cent in 2013).
  • 13 per cent had seriously considered suicide in the previous year (up from 10 per cent in 2013).
  • 2.2 per cent reported attempting suicide in the last year (up from 1.5 per cent in 2013).
  • Nine per cent reported attempting suicide sometime in the past (not restricted to last year).

“We’ve got a major crisis on our hands,” said Houghton, who is also the director of student access, wellness and development at Humber College in Toronto.
“Many of us who oversee counselling services describe our day as using a finger to stop a flood and the demand for our services far outstrips our capacity to support students.”

Houghton said campus counsellors once assisted students struggling with stress and relationship issues — but their roles have now expanded.

“We’re finding ourselves increasingly trying to support significant diagnoses, trauma counselling and crises,” Houghton said.

Wait times a major barrier

As a result of the increase in both need and the complexity of problems, campuses are reporting long wait times for services, Houghton said.

 

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