Students often fear disclosing their mental health issues
By Jillian McMullen, Staff Writer
In recent years, practitioners in Canada have noted a spike in mental health-related issues among students, with half of those students experiencing the onset of their illness during their time in school, according to a new report.
The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) published a paper on January 9, which examines the realities of mental health on post-secondary campuses across the country and makes suggestions as to what the federal government can do to improve them. Although provincial governments are responsible for both education and mental health care, the report demonstrates how the federal government is implicated in both sectors, spending over 12 billion and 50 billion on either, respectively.
In the report, CASA admits difficulties in accurately accounting for those suffering from mental health issues, with inquiries into the mental health environment among students often only looking at registration rates with student accessibility programs. Most students, however, suffer from mild to moderate conditions and do not attempt to apply for an institution’s offered services, often believing their conditions are not severe enough to seek support. This, the report says, is why institutions should focus on expanding their supports for students.
Academic accommodations are perhaps the most common tool post-secondary institutions use to provide extra support to their students struggling with mental illness. The report lists ways these accommodations are commonly employed, such as in homework extensions and adjusted test times. It articulates how integral these supports are for students experiencing mental health issues.
“Research shows that success in post-secondary education for many students is linked to the presence of accessible and sufficient accommodations,” the report explains. “Studies of students with ‘invisible disabilities’ have revealed that students felt accommodations were imperative to their success.”
Students encounter difficulties while attempting to access those accommodations as many institutions require formal documentation of permanent disability, which can be hard for students to get—particularly if the illness has just begun to manifest. According to the report, students often fear fully disclosing their mental health issues to faculty members due to the stigma surrounding it.
“Final say for academic accommodations, such as extensions for individual assignments, are often left to the discretion of professors,” the report says. “This presents another barrier for students who may be dealing with professors who lack information about the appropriate services for students with mental health problems and illnesses, hold prejudicial attitudes, or are unwilling to put in extra work to accommodate students.”
The report suggests greater federal investment in data collection will help to end that kind of stigma. With the creation of a national body charged with establishing concrete data, the government can more accurately develop action plans that benefit students.
“Better national data is needed to help ensure that evidence-based solutions are developed to fight stigma, reduce discrimination, and improve mental health supports on Canadian campuses,” the report suggests.
The full report is available on the CASA website.