University of Guelph students in the province of Ontario now have a new way to access mental health support through a 24-hour texting service.
Increased reports of depression, anxiety among students
A survey of students conducted in Ontario in 2016 found 15 per cent of post-secondary students said they had been treated for or had been diagnosed with depression in the previous year. Eighteen per cent had been treated for anxiety. This was a large increase from figures in 2013.
“Across Canada, universities and colleges are scrambling to respond to record anxiety and depression levels,” says a 2017 editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. It says greater financial cost and greater expectations are creating more stress for students. Reduced stigma about mental health may also be driving the increasing demand for mental health services on campus.
A lack of services in public health system
The article notes it is difficult to access mental health services in the public health system and that provinces, which provide public health services, “are aware of the role campuses are playing in filling the gap.”
Canadian universities offer in-person counselling for students and increasingly, are turning to other innovative ways to offer help. Some offer drop-in sessions with therapy dogs. Confederation College in northern Ontario launched video counselling in 2014 for students at its eight regional campuses. It took some time for counsellors to get used to video chats but they were comfortable for students who are used to video chats with friends.
Youth prefer to write rather than speak
In the same way, the announcement of the new crisis text line cites research that found 42 per cent of youth prefer to write rather than speak about their problems and 71 per cent welcome a texting option when discussing their problems. It also found that “non-verbal platforms (e.g., live chats) are more likely to uncover serious, high-risk mental health concerns.”
This crisis text line is powered by Kids Help Phone, a national service offering counselling, information and referrals for young people in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. It is a registered charity.