A few counsellors not enough for thousands of struggling students

Image by: Vincent Lin

We have the statistics. We have the student mental health campaigns. We even have a student wellness centre being built slowly, but surely, in the PEC. 

But when it comes to tackling the mental health crisis head-on, are we glossing over a vital question — what are the root causes of plummeting mental health among students?

The CBC reported that mental health counsellors in post-secondary institutions across the province are struggling to meet the spiking demands of students. It’s resulted in “a mental health crisis”. 

When it comes to expectations of students, many feel that the bar is constantly being raised. 

It’s become a normalized reality among today’s university-goers that a stand-alone post-secondary degree doesn’t guarantee a steady career.

The pressure to succeed academically, gain work experience, achieve a well-rounded résumé and maintain a social life is ongoing and continually rising. 

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as expectations are heightened, more and more students are crumbling under the pressure. 

To fix such a rapidly intensifying problem, a handful of campus counsellors — paired with unreasonable wait-times and many professors still lacking sensitivity to students’ mental health — isn’t going to cut it.

Hiring a single campus counsellor every time staggering mental health statistics are publicized reeks of self-protection, not student protection. Universities can’t expect the complex problem of student mental health to simply blow over — it’s a continuous issue that needs continuous addressing.

In 2012, partly in response to the student suicides that took place at Queen’s in 2010, Principal Daniel Woolf launched the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health. In a report released in June of 2012, the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health made public a wealth of numbers — 73 per cent of surveyed students reported experiencing academic pressures, 63 per cent said they didn’t have enough time for their academics, and so on. 

There are no shortage of statistics evidencing the need for mental health resources. Yet after nearly five years, we’re still facing the same problems.

It’s not as if the changes aren’t taking place — it’s that the immediacy of persistent challenges to students’ mental health demands a more immediate answer. 

Adding more faculty counsellors may seem like the simple solution, but the crisis won’t blow over if the problems with the current counselling resources aren’t addressed. 

Change will only come to fruition when wait-times are decreased and facilities for struggling students are made available.  

In the meantime, the disproportionate ratio of struggling students to campus counsellors, and the wait-times that sometimes last weeks, may be pushing students to lose trust in therapy — a resource meant to be open and welcoming. 

The insufficient number and availability of counsellors may cause an increasing amount of students to believe that the resource itself is valueless.

Part of the answer could be as simple as universities assuring students they care — phone numbers for helplines made highly accessible on their websites or training for professors on how best to react when students complain of academic pressures. 

Without exploring the causes behind a culture where students’ put their grades before their mental health, and addressing the inadequacies of already existing resources, universities won’t understand their part in it.

Journal Editorial Board 

‘Lives at stake’: campus counsellors say province must address mental health ‘crisis’

Ontario colleges and universities are facing a mental health crisis as campus counsellors are overwhelmed by the growing need for services, according to a new study from the provincial association that represents heath service providers on campuses.


councilor, Editorial, Mental health, resource

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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