Surveying mental health services on campuses in Alberta

Recent statistics confirm that attending post-secondary can be stressful, to say the least. Demands for mental health support are rising as post-secondary students face overwhelming stress (70%), anxiety (57%), loneliness (64%), and exhaustion (88%).* But, are the mental health services provided by Alberta’s post-secondary institutions effective and adequate enough to meet the mental health needs of their students?

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry set out to answer this question -- through an online survey consisting of 60 questions, sent to administrators, counsellors & medical professionals at all of Alberta's publicly funded post-secondary institutions.

Here's what they found: 

1.  On Mental Health Promotion: programs/initiatives that increase mental health awareness

  • Each institution has multiple groups (i.e. students' associations, counselling centres etc.) involved in mental health promotion.
  • Only 44% of small** institutions have these programs in place, compared to an 88% & 89% for medium and large institutions, respectively.
  • Only 17% of the small institutions' respondents responded positively when asked whether current campus promotion programs were effective and a good use of campus resources.
  • 86% of all respondents indicated that their institution could benefit from expanding campus mental health promotion and outreach programs.
  • Outreach initiatives targeted at specific groups (i.e. first-year, international, Aboriginal, LGBTQ students) were present in only 50% of small and 75% of medium & large institutions.

2. On Campus Social Support & Mental Health Climate: elements like student groups, peer support centres, mentor programs etc. that reduce stress and encourage self-care & discussion on mental health to contribute to a healthy campus

  • For small institutions, a peer support centre and international students' centre were the most frequently cited available social supports.
  • For medium and large institutions, Aboriginal centres, peer support centres, and LGBTQ clubs were the most frequently identified campus social support.
  • The majority of institutions indicated that they had a student residence.

3. On Identification: initiatives designed to identify students with and (or) at risk for developing mental health problems

  • Among small institutions, 83% agreed that faculty and/or staff were informed about mental health and available campus services, compared to 67% of respondents at medium and 88% at large institutions.
  • Across all institutions, 63% reported that students are able to alert the institution of preexisting mental health problems.
  • Only two institutions in the province require incoming students to fill out a medical history questionnaire.

4. On Campus Medical, Counselling & Accessibility Services

  • On-campus medical services were offered at 44% of small, 88% of medium, and all large institutions. 
  • 44% of small and 71% of medium and large institutions indicated that counselling centre staff had undergone cross-cultural training.
  • At most institutions, counselling services limited the length and (or) number of sessions.
  • 22% of small, 43% of medium, and 57% of large institutions indicated that they plan and coordinate mental health resources with community-based mental health services.

What does it all mean? 

                                                    

                                                    

All post-secondary institutions in Alberta offer various forms of mental health support. Smaller institutions, however, are less likely to offer some of these services. This isn't because they are less committed to campus mental health programs, but likely due to lack of resources. This may be a problem for students who have specific mental health needs that need to be met, as they cannot assume that all institutions will be able to provide mental health services to suit their needs.

So, knowing what mental health services are available on each campus in Alberta may be useful for students when it comes to making decisions about the best way to have their mental health needs met while they attend a post-secondary institution. Unfortunately, a central database of available services does not exist at the moment, making it difficult for potential students and their families to compare services across institutions.

* All data was taken from ACMHI 2014 Survey.

** Small institutions (<2,000 students); medium (2,000-10,000); large (>10,000 students)