The Fall term has always been a time of excitement – but also of increased responsibility and stress within our College community. Amidst the pandemic, I know many of us are struggling with additional feelings of anxiety and isolation this year.

That’s why I call on each and every one of you to make mental health your top priority.

Six years ago, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released a report highlighting how post-secondary student populations across the country are at a higher risk of mental health issues.

The report detailed how half of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illness start by 14 years-of-age, and 75 per cent by the age of 24. Half of all Canadians will have, or will have had, a mental illness by the age of 40.

In the intervening years since that report, Algonquin College has taken many steps to enhance its support networks and resources to help our learners and employees look after their mental health.

That work continues with an even greater sense of purpose today, as we now face new personal challenges brought upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic. With a return to normal still on the horizon, taking care of ourselves has become even more critical.

Algonquin College takes pride in being an inclusive, caring community. We strive each day to support and respect one another – to show kindness and empathy. By doing this, we break down the old and harmful stigmas around mental health.

Building awareness is crucial, and I encourage every learner and employee to take the time to reflect on how they are feeling and coping during these unprecedented times. Part of being aware is accepting that it is okay to be vulnerable. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. Never hesitate to reach out when in need. In addition to the resources referenced above, there are also many apps and online tools available to you, and excellent resources offered by Ottawa Public Health.

One of the recent developments in our continuing efforts around mental health is the expanded partnership Algonquin College has with The Royal. This summer, thanks to a $250,000 contribution from RBC Foundation, more of our learners in need will be able to meet online with a psychiatrist from The Royal and get the support they need through  a customized treatment plan.

We also offer a complete range of counselling services and general supports in an effort to cater to the individual needs of every learner, understanding the broad range of challenges and lived experiences across our student population. These services are provided by professionals who can accommodate you virtually from the comfort of your own home.

Like everyone, I am looking forward to the time when we can all safely be together again, enjoying the vibrancy and energy of being on campus. Until then, please know you are not alone. We want you to turn your dreams into lifelong success and are committed to helping you on the journey.