Post-secondary education is often a difficult period of transition for students. In 2013, the National College Health Assessment (NCHA) conducted a survey of 5,122 students across four Alberta campuses. The survey found that within the previous year, over 50% of students reported experiencing feelings of hopelessness and overwhelming anxiety. In addition, 36 % reported feelings of depression so severe that they interfered with their ability to function (1). Despite these overwhelming numbers, 80% students reported not having been assessed or treated by a professional for their mental health issues (1). This evidence suggests that a significant portion of Albertan post-secondary students are experiencing serious mental health problems. Additionally, the evidence suggests that there is a gap in current policy in providing access to mental heath services these students. This brief posits that implementing a comprehensive mental health framework, mandatory screenings and programs that target stigma are viable policy options for closing this gap and improving overall mental health and wellness among students in the province.
Research on the help-seeking behaviours of post-secondary students has found that a majority of students with poor mental health are not receiving treatment (2). This may be primarily due to a lack of awareness of available services and lack of faith in the effectiveness of available treatment options (2). This study supports the findings of NCHA survey that a significant majority of Albertan students do not receive treatment even though may their distress may be severely impacting their a...
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... of mental health services and by extension decrease the prevalence of mental health problems among students.
A provincial policy is necessary to improve access to mental health services for post-secondary students. Policy-makers should consider the following options (i) implementing the Cornell University Mental Health Framework as a means to create an comprehensive public health approach to student mental health, (ii) implement mental health screens to improve health seeking behaviour and improve access to services and/or (iii) increase social contact between students and Albertans living with mental disorders in order to target stigma and improve help-seeking. With each policy option, it is important to consider financial costs, the unique context and interests of students at each institution and finally the empirical evidence supporting each practice.
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