Gradifying is very pleased to welcome this week’s guest blogger, Fiona O’Connor, Partnership Coordinator at Good2Talk. We’ve written elsewhere on the topic of mental health in graduate school. This week, Fiona introduces us to Good2Talk, Ontario’s new postsecondary student helpline, which offers a free, confidential and anonymous telephone helpline offering professional counselling and information and referral services for mental health and addictions. For more information about the information session at Queen’s on Feb 13, please scroll down to the end of this post. If you would like to contribute a guest post to Gradifying, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Whether you’re a first year student navigating the trials of new roommates, or a soon-to-be graduate facing an uncertain job market, postsecondary life has its share of unique challenges. While often synonymous with feelings of stress, anxiety and isolation, our ability to manage these problems — and access the resources that can help us do so — can make all the difference when it comes to maintaining mental health.
There’s good reason why the topic of student mental health is of growing interest, and concern. The 2013 National College Health Assessment survey, which includes data from 34 postsecondary institutions across Canada, found that over fifty per cent of its student respondents had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, while nearly forty per cent indicated feeling depressed to the point of being unable to function over the same time period.
These statistics support findings of a 2012 study of Ontario college counselling centres, whose staff cited the increasing complexity of students’ mental health needs, along with the sheer volume of demand, as posing significant challenges to their work.
Yet the narrative of a mental health “crisis” sweeping campuses, prevalent in much of the media coverage we see on the topic, tends to obscure (among other things) the many positive initiatives that are underway to build healthier, more supportive campus communities. Queen’s Commission on Mental Health is just one example, while forums like this blog provide critical spaces for everyday dialogue around the issues that impact student well-being and success.
Over the last year, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Mental Health Innovation Fund has spurred the creation of a series of projects designed to increase, improve and better coordinate mental health supports for postsecondary students.
Among the largest of these is Good2Talk/Allo J’écoute, a new confidential and anonymous helpline for college and university students in Ontario, on whose behalf I work running campus outreach. A partnership between four organizations — ConnexOntario, Kids Help Phone, Ontario 211 and the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health — Good2Talk provides two key services: professional counselling and information and referrals for mental health and addictions, serving as an adjunct to existing on- and off-campus supports.
While still in its infancy, Good2Talk’s call trends since its launch last June reinforce much of what we already know about the issues taking the biggest toll on students. For example, support for mental and emotional health, and in particular anxiety issues, account for 36% of Good2Talk’s counselling sessions, while relationship issues like break-ups, dating and love represent about 16%. Perhaps unsurprisingly, academic concerns also rank high on the list of presenting issues we see, accounting for about 15% of all sessions.
Add to this the number of students calling to speak to Good2Talk’s Information and Referral Specialists –one of two service options students have when they call the line — and we get an even higher proportion of mental health-related concerns, namely for both undiagnosed and diagnosed mood disorders and mental health challenges.
As an in-the-moment support geared towards students aged 17 to 25, Good2Talk is no silver bullet for fixing the systemic problems that underlie the mental health challenges that some postsecondary students today face — a reality thoughtfully considered in this recent piece in University Affairs.
What Good2Talk does offer is an added tool for students to learn about, manage and maintain their mental health and well-being. While our professional staff are equipped to handle calls from students experiencing different challenges – personal issues, academic concerns, suicidality, substance abuse issues and distress calls – our hope is that by providing 24/7 access to confidential and anonymous counselling and information and referral supports students will have an additional opportunity to reach out for help, before concerns escalate to crises.
To learn more about Good2Talk and how members of the Queen’s community can use and help promote this new service, please join me for a Good2Talk information session on Thursday, February 13th from 1:30 – 2:30 pm in Richardson Hall, Rm 340.