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Why can’t the college stabilize demand for mental illness treatment?

“We can’t keep up.”

The quote — made by President Cheryl Jensen during a recent classroom visit to the new incoming staff of this newspaper — pretty much says it all when it comes to the college’s high demand for mental health services available to students.

We’re not alone. President Jensen also alluded to the fact that the University Of Ottawa employs “13 psychologists on staff to deal with students and despite this, still finds it impossible to keep up with the needs.”

What more needs to be said, and by whom? College-age students are sick, and government and society are not responding at the scale that will stabilize this crisis in the short and long term.

This lack of attention has been a very common trend throughout much of history, unfortunately. Collectively, we have neglected, misdiagnosed and mistreated mental health treatment for millennia.

Ancient writings from cultures such as Egypt, Rome, Greece, and India describe mental health as either religious punishment, demonic possession, or a personal problem, according to Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that specializes in worldwide healthcare delivery.

Mental health was eventually treated as a medical condition starting in the middle ages with such methods as vomiting, purging with laxatives, and bleeding. Jess P. Shatkin of the New York University School of Medicine says these treatments were not specific to any specific patient and were used with the theory of “all that ails you.” These methods were still used well into the 19th century.

The 19th century brought the rise of, first, private asylums for wealthy Caucasians to be separate from ethnic and racial minorities, and second, public asylums for the rest of the population. Bad conditions arose due to overcrowding and many patients were not able to get sufficient care, according to Shatkin.

Methods in the 20th century actually began to kill people. According to Jeffrey A. Lieberman in his book Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry, Australian doctor Julius Wagner-Jauregg believed he had found a cure for General Paresis of the Insane by injecting malarial blood into his patients, calling the method Fever Therapy. Wagner-Jauregg would go on to kill 15 per cent of his patients but was awarded the 1927 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Other methods used in asylums was to put patients into a diabetic coma with insulin, which lead to death according to Shatkin. Patients were given give Metrazol to start convulsions but electroshock was seen as a safer alternative.

The Community Mental Health Centre Act was signed by United States President John F. Kennedy in 1963 which helped pave the way for the closure of asylums and the end of practices such as Lobotomies according to Shatkin. Pres. Kennedy’s sister, Rose, was subject to a Lobotomy in 1941. The closure of asylums helped shift treatment to patients to a small setting which has proved beneficial according to Shatkin.

For thousands of years, mental health patients have been the subjects of a grave injustice that has cut many lives short. Changing the way society critically thinks about issues such mental health is a long and extraordinarily difficult task to succeed at.

For the last 40 years, however, this is something we have succeeded at, with events such as Bell Lets Talk, which has donated over $86.5 million to mental health initiatives since creation according to their website.

Why, then, does the college continue to fall short for their students in regards to mental health assistance? It appears our society continues to take steps in the right direction but can that truly be said here at Algonquin.

There may be a mental health crisis on campus but our society has become more tolerant and accepting than ever before it has made living with a mental health problem, far better.

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