Stressing the importance of addressing the reality of mental health on post-secondary campuses in Alberta
"I'm stressed!" It seems to be the most commonly repeated sentence that escapes the lips of many college students today. This crises resonates with me because my personal and professional focus is on promoting health consciousness. One of the things that I have come to appreciate over time is the importance of mental well-being. I have come to realize that this is fundamental to the overall well-being of an individual above and beyond other considerations. A healthy mind is a healthy body which in turn fosters a healthy society. This is not merely a trite observation but, I believe, a fundamental truth. Nowhere is the need to foster, empower and facilitate mental wellbeing more critical than on post-secondary campuses and, in particular, in the life of students.
The reasons are many and profound: estrangement from home comfort, academic stress, social adjustment, search for an identity, the attempt to secure a productive future, and added to this anxious mix, the sheer need to survive on a daily basis! It is not an exaggeration to state that post-secondary students are among the most stressed members of society. Their plight is often ignored or what they are experiencing is dismissed as “a necessary and character building moment in life."
'It is not an exaggeration to state that post-secondary students are among the most stressed members of society.'
Yet, we know the toll that this can take on post-secondary students: a decline in their achievement and most importantly, a decline in their quality of life. Post-secondary education for a lot of students can be one of the most stressful experiences of their schooling period. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions or that popular culprit, stress. These other mental health related issues are increasingly finding their way into the lives of students across the nation.
Arguably, the reality of mental health is emerging as the most important factor of student life and experience. Health concerns have gained great traction over the last couple of years and the topic of mental health in particular has been one of the subtopics that has been raised consistently. Mental health issues are present on all post secondary campuses across the province. Mental Health does not discriminate towards its victims. Polytechnic institutions such as NAIT and SAIT view it as an issue, students from King's and Concordia University view it as an issue, and students from community colleges in diverse communities like Fort McMurray, Red Deer and Grand Prairie College all view it as an issue. It is not far-fetched to say that the issue of mental health today is the most critical and relevant issue that students face on campus.
In light of this crises of mental health on campuses across the province, student leaders from across Alberta have banded together --under the umbrella of ASEC (Alberta Students' Executive Council) -- to come up with ways to discuss appropriate and efficient methods to address the reality of mental health and the issues related to students' everyday life.
Attending Keyano College in the northern part of our province for the last two years has led me to reserve my stance on the reality of mental health on post-secondary campuses across Alberta. However, after meeting with members from ASEC , I learned very quickly that there is indeed a very unified stance on the need to address mental health concerns on Alberta campuses across the board. The committee members and I meet regularly to develop, improve, implement, and sustain the mental health initiatives in Alberta in effort to shine light on the issue as well as to fight against the stigma attached to mental health issues to ultimately enhance the overall student experience.
'The committee acts as a collective to collaborate, engage and exchange ideas revolving around mental health and general student welfare on our campuses. Each of our schools are different and the issue of mental health manifests itself in unique ways.'
ASEC as an organization lobbied for ACMHI, a grant that supports student-led mental health initiatives and has greatly impacted students from across the province for the last two years, and for this final year.
This year the mental health committee, which is composed of many passionate and dedicated souls, is working towards setting the foundation for mental health initiatives. We are focused on working towards establishing a successful and effective community of practice in order to promote and advocate for campus wellness in the province. In addition, we have planned to establish our role within ASEC as both an advisory group and community of mental health advocates. We are currently putting together a mission statement and arranging to create an advisory document to both ASEC, in our role as an advocacy organization, as well as post-secondary campuses to solidify our direction in the future. We trust that this document will serve as a reliable piece of information to advise ASEC and its members about the problems related to committee structure, campuses initiatives, as well as common roadblocks on campuses. We also hope to offer fresh, new ideas to propel the committee forward in this endeavor.
The committee is fixed on setting annual goals to ensure efficiency and to work towards becoming a community of practice. This year, the committee is working alongside ASEC's team to organize a provincial Wellness Summit in the new year for students, members of the public, as well as government officials to learn and interact under the umbrella of establishing campuses focused on health and wellness across the province.
This year looks very promising for our committee as we take the next critical steps to fight stigma around mental health, educate students and members of the public on this issue as well as create flourishing campuses to honor the reality of mental health across the beautiful province of Alberta.
Part of being an organization that represents students is ensuring that the needs of our students is taken into consideration. Continuing to fight stigma and provide comprehensive opportunities for mental health awareness, including campaigns, preventative knowledge, and intervention training are vital to ensuring safer, healthier schools all across Alberta.