Riley Lynch, a fourth year physics student at the University of Guelph, a lover of the universe and nature, died by suicide on January 19, 2017 (Goffin, 2017). According to the recent article in The Star, this is the fourth suicide at the University of Guelph since September 2016 – the highest number seen in any academic year (Goffin, 2017).
Although counselling, anonymous peer support/crisis lines, therapy, and psychiatrists are available at the school to address students’ issues, the demand is higher than the supply. In addition, short-term issues such as breakups are focused on, as opposed to chronic or complex mental health issues that require ongoing and intensive care (Goffin, 2017). Students are at a vulnerable point in their life, due to many being away from home, and often being the age when they are cut off from adolescent mental health services (Goffin, 2017).
This is not an isolated issue. At McMaster University, masters students were cut off from counselling services after a student vote last year, and from personal anecdotes, long wait times and reduced counselling hours were not uncommon.
Yet it is not just students experiencing mental health issues and difficulty with accessing services. A 2015 survey by a UK-based higher education charity found that 38% of staff at UK universities did not disclose mental illness, many due to stigma or fear (Shaw, 2015). Less than 40% received support for their issues (Shaw, 2015).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Whether you are a student or a staff member at a school, or a concerned reader, is it is within your power to help treat and prevent mental health issues at universities, colleges, and schools.
- Combat mental health stigma by reflecting on your and others’ use of language, raising awareness to those who may not be knowledgeable about mental health, and providing support to those who are experiencing mental health issues.
- Get trained in mental health first aid or suicide training. Recognize the signs of suicide risk in colleagues or peers, and learn about the services around you.
- Advocate for the value of access to consistent and high quality mental health care. Sign a petition such as the one currently circulating at the University of Guelph, communicate with student groups and write to the president of the university, or simply talk to others about the need for increased access.
Universities are highly competitive, business-like, academic environments. Yet with the right supports they can help aspiring students like Riley Lynch, and established artists, researchers, and professionals share knowledge and realize their potential, despite any obstacles they face.
Image from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/02/12/university-of-guelph-struggling-to-meet-students-mental-health-needs.html
Goffin, P (February 12, 2017). “University of Guelph struggling to meet students’ mental health needs”. The Star. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/02/12/university-of-guelph-struggling-to-meet-students-mental-health-needs.html
Shaw, C (February 13, 2015). “University staff scared to disclose mental health problems”. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/13/university-staff-scared-to-disclose-mental-health-problems