There is a mental health crisis sweeping across Ontario and Algonquin is not ready.
That’s the view of the college’s mental health social worker Meredith Coffin, the sole caregiver at Algonquin’s Health Services. The department serves the college by providing support to students who require medical and mental health attention, but with stigmas changing and awareness growing, the numbers of students coming for support has increased — but the staff size has not.
Apart from counselling services provided by Student Support, Coffin is the sole caregiver for mental health issues at Health Services, but she says the demand for help has completely outpaced the capabilities of the staff.
For the entirety of the past semester, Coffin was overbooked each day, causing wait times of up to four weeks.
“A mental health crisis is happening on Canadian campuses,” said Coffin in an interview with the Times Jan. 16. “Our society can be doing better. We need money and it’s crucial. It is absolutely critical.”
A study published by the Ontario University and College Health Association in 2016 backs her opinion up. It found that 65 per cent of post-secondary students reported overwhelming anxiety, 46 per cent said depression made it difficult to function and 13 per cent had seriously considered suicide.
These are massive demographics for a single social worker to take on alone and more staff is needed — but throwing more people at the problem is not the only solution.
“It doesn’t necessarily need to be that we have 10 psychiatrists on campus,” said Coffin. “There are some really beautiful ways we could get creative in what we provide.”
Those options could include exercise opportunities such as yoga and fitness classes to help reduce stress. Algonquin is behind in these initiatives, as paid memberships on top of tuition are required for access to gym facilities.
Mental health cases have only grown at an exponential rate while treatment remains stagnant. Student well-being should be a priority for the college, as personal and academic success is the reason a student enrols.
When support fails and students suffer, Algonquin suffers too.
If you or someone you know are suffering from mental health issues, call for an appointment or visit Health Services in C141 to be set up with the proper treatment options.
There are also support streams with the Centre for Accessible Learning and councellors at the Welcome Centre in the Student Commons. The academic adviser specific to your program is there help as well. These support options are free and completely anonymous.
When it comes to mental health, Judith Doxtater, a registered nurse in Health Services says: “It doesn’t matter where you start, start somewhere.”