Supporting student mental health issues
One in four people between the ages of 15 and 24 will experience a mental health problem, the most common being depression and anxiety. At Queen’s students with diagnosed mental health illnesses are the fastest growing group of students with disabilities.
To address this health issue, the university offers a broad range of treatment and counselling services while accommodating the academic needs of students with mental illnesses. Queen’s also offers training to staff, faculty and campus leaders to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and how to guide a person to professional help.
“Students don’t have to suffer in silence. There is professional help available on campus,” says Mike Condra, director of Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS), a division of Students Affairs.
HCDS offers specialized mental health care by physicians and counselling for personal, psychological and mental health issues. The department also arranges academic accommodations for students diagnosed with mental health problems.
To encourage students to access mental health services, the university distributes educational material to try to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness. Of the one in four young people who will develop a mental health problem, only 30 per cent will ever seek help.
“Students wouldn’t think twice about visiting a doctor for a sore throat or an earache. It should be the same way for a mental health problem. We want students to know there are resources here and ensure they are comfortable coming in,” Dr. Condra says.
The university recognizes that all members of the campus community can reach out and help students who are developing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis. Over the last two years, more than 300 staff members from Student Affairs and other faculty offices have received Mental Health First Aid training.
Because of their positions, student leaders can be an important resource for students. This year all residence dons will take the two-day Mental Health First Aid training program and residence council members will have the same opportunity. Orientation leaders will receive mental health information as well.
A program funded by the Alma Mater Society will educate other student leaders—executive members, commissioners and managers—about mental health.
The tragic death of Jack Windeler, a first-year Queen’s student who took his own life in March of this year, has increased the interest on the campus in educating and informing all members of the community about mental health issues and how they can respond. Eric Windeler, Jack’s father, has spoken to residence dons and orientation leaders about recognizing the signs of mental health problems.
“Many young people reach a point in their lives where they feel stressed or pressured by what’s happening. Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness can lead to depression and, in the worst cases, to thoughts of suicide.
“But by learning and talking we can eliminate the stigma around mental health problems so that young people know where they can turn for help,” he says.
Mr. Windeler’s message is that members of the university community can become informed and reach out to others who may be experiencing problems.
This is also the message in both versions of the HCDS pamphlet “How you can identify and help students in distress.” The information for students is available at Students in Distress—Advice for Students, and the faculty/staff version is at Students in Distress—Advice for Faculty and Staff.
More information about the mental health services offered at Queen’s can be found on the HCDS website.