Student life can be hard. With multiple priorities and deadlines, students tend to have hectic schedules which can lead to the development of unhealthy behaviours that are detrimental to their wellbeing. Our university education can put stress on both our bodies and our minds, adversely affecting student health. As a result, mental health policy has become a top area of policy interest for students as we continue to face such challenges. Over 36% of students have reported feeling levels of depression that make it difficult to function, and over 58% report having experiences with overwhelming anxiety. Many of our Ontario universities have seen the result of the high pressure put upon students, with students often feeling burn out, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Sadly, many student bodies have had to grieve as students have died by suicide or attempted suicide on campus.
It has been the students who care about the statistics and the state of campus mental health that have driven discussions and action both on and off-campus. These discussions include a recent report on student mental health conducted at the University of Waterloo, and advocacy at the provincial level, including the collaborative In It Together report on campus mental health, co-authored by OUSA. Both student-led initiatives and university initiatives are important to improving campus mental health, but what is equally important is obtaining concrete support and resources from the provincial government. This need has been highlighted in the In It Together report which calls upon the Ontario government to fund and embrace measures to address the large demand for better mental wellness in post-secondary institutions, and to provide funding for acute, ongoing, and preventative care both on campuses and in their surrounding communities.
To secure action on mental health for Ontario post-secondary institutions, students have to vote. Four of Ontario’s largest political parties have put forward some vision and promises to increase spending on mental health after the provincial election. The Green Party of Ontario pledges to increase investment in mental health services, and remove HST from private mental health services, but has not outlined a spending commitment. The budget of the Ontario Liberal government pledges $2.1 billion dollars over four years in services such as psychotherapy and funding for mental health and addictions community agencies. The NDP pledges to establish a dedicated Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and to hire additional mental health care workers, representing over $700 million dollars over five years. The Ontario PC Party pledges to spend $1.9 billion dollars over ten years, with specific policies still to be determined in consultation with medical and mental health organizations.
Each party outlines a different vision for mental health funding and care in Ontario, and the fact that this issue has gained the attention of all major political parties is an indication that mental health is an issue important to all Ontarians. It is vital that students vote to support a plan that they believe will support their vision of mental health support in Ontario. The election is also an opportunity to ask your candidates how they will support mental health for students both on and off campuses. You can ask questions like: “What programs will the funding be used for that will help university students?”, “Will your party be providing any funding directly to universities to support their mental health and wellness services?”, or “How will you make sure that the proposed programs provide students with resources they can access in their surrounding communities?”
Engaging in these discussions, posing questions, and asking for commitments from your candidates are great ways to advocate for better mental health resources for yourself, your peers, and for students all across Ontario. Mental health is an incredibly important issue in this election. Given the numerous advocacy efforts by post-secondary and community stakeholders leading up to this election, resulting in each political party making a commitment to mental health as aforementioned, now, more than ever, is a critical time to ensure student perspectives' on mental health are recognized and are implemented into action., compared to any other election we have witnessed in our lifetimes.This election has more focus on mental health than any other in our lifetimes, We have to use this amazing opportunity to guarantee mental health is thoroughly discussed by candidates so that voters can cast their ballots fully informed about each party’s commitments and positions on mental health. It is with students’ continued concern and voices, but especially with their votes, that we can encourage Ontario to adopt a robust and effective mental health care system that truly serves the mental wellness needs of its students.
Matt Gerrits is the Vice President Education at the Waterloo Federation of Students and an OUSA Steering Committee Member.