“Universities have forgotten their larger educational role for college students: to help them figure out who they are and what their purpose in the world should be.” – Harry R. Lewis, former Harvard Dean
A silent epidemic is plaguing the lives of students all over the world. Figures show that this issue affects 50 percent of children by the time they reach 14, a number that reaches 75 percent once they turn 24. It’s dangerous, unpredictable and debilitating, but it’s also a problem that won’t go away until we invest and understand.
Revered Indian psychiatrist Vikram Patel famously said “there is no health without mental health”; a statement that rings true. Too important to be left to the professionals alone, Patel then deemed our psychiatric well-being a subject that’s “everyone’s business”. What happens inside the mind is real and all-consuming, influencing everything we do from our thoughts to our behaviour. When student mental health is left neglected and untreated, statistics too often reflect devastating results.
This is not a problem that’s selective or exclusive, hitting any one of us, any place, at any time. Unfortunately, numbers show that the chances of being struck are high for the contemporary student. In 2017, long-term UK education professional, Sir Anthony Seldon, reported that the number of student suicides had hit an all-time high, with 134 reported across the nation’s universities last year. Seldon owes this tragic case to the fact “undergraduates arrive ill-prepared to cope with exam stress”, highlighting that many schools fail to equip them with the valuable skills they need.
But this is a global pandemic. A 2017 report conducted by Mission Australia revealed that mental health is slipping among Australian youth, with almost a quarter of those surveyed displaying criteria for a serious mental illness. And across US higher education, counsellors have seen a record high in mental health disorders. Now cross the border to Canada, and a staggering one fifth of postsecondary students are battling depression, anxiety or another mental health issue.
“At the beginning of the year, all of our member institutions vote on priorities that are important for them on their campus,” Shifrah Gadamsetti, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), told student newspaper, The Ubyssey. “And mental health was the number one issue, no matter which campus you came from.
“As a society and a country we have an obligation to be addressing primary intervention and good coping strategies,” she adds.
“When we are able to support [students] in creating good coping strategies and recognizing issues before they become a crisis, those kinds of behaviours and patterns of accessing support transfer over when they are able to enter the workforce and become contributing members of society.”
The points highlighted by Gadamsetti are exactly what Trinity Western University (TWU) works hard to achieve, acknowledging the challenges that come with building a life at university. The student experience is both intellectually and emotionally trying, but TWU’s Mental Health Services and Wellness Centre help ease them through the transition.
Here, highly-trained staff help you navigate the trials, while also maximizing enjoyment and success for the duration of your degree. From personal to academic or even lifestyle concerns, these dedicated facilities have you covered from day one.
“Any member of the [TWU] community may come into contact with a distressed student,” the university’s Dealing with Distressed Students brochure states. “Being aware of the distress signals, methods of intervention and sources of help for the student can help you feel more in control of situations that may arise. The mental health professionals at the Counseling Centre are available to student leaders, faculty and staff for consultation regarding these issues.”
The Wellness Centre grants students and staff a safe, quiet and relaxed space where they can explore the roots of the issue. It gives them time to gain clarity and insight on how things could be resolved, also offering an environment that can be used to enhance problem-solving and communication skills. Then there’s The Well, a new, devoted area in which students can relax, reflect and reconnect with what’s important. Equipped with two TruMedic MC-3000 massage chairs, which are free to use; on top of a Bright Light Therapy Lamp plus a range of tools and tips, students here get the chance to chill their mind, body and soul.
“The pillars of wellness link our personal, internal lives to the external world in which we live and work every day,” the institution explains. “…Because wellness is not static, we continually monitor and adjust all aspects of wellness as we progress through life.
In the competitive university world, mental health and academic success often go hand-in-hand, so TWU creatively supports academic success and mental health in the most proactive way. For example, the institution’s University Transitions (U-I) program for International Students “actively supports global students with the academic, social, interpersonal, and acculturative change that takes place when a student moves around the world to study in a new University climate in a new country”, explains TWU Vice Provost , Dr. Philip Laird. Supporting the academic needs of all students, Dr. Kim Franklin, Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning, has been integral in the development of the TWU Learning Commons where students are welcome to “learn, study, receive academic coaching and advising, writing, math and career support, all in one place.”
“…Living well creates a tapestry of life where beautiful threads get woven into a design to create uniqueness and beauty in each person. When we look at the back of our personal tapestry we may see the knots and flaws in the weaving… We all have ‘gaps’ and problems in our lives but as we embrace them authentically, often threads that are ugly on the back are woven beautifully in to the design on the front. Be encouraged – begin the journey and pursue the challenge of living well.”
If more universities like TWU invested the time, financial and human resources, facilities and genuine care for their students’ mental health and well-being, we would finally be able to give a voice to the silent epidemic.