Mental health has become a bit of a buzzword in Canadian higher education. Though unlike most buzzwords, I do not believe that it has lost its meaning. Over the last few decades, the life of a university student has changed considerably: tuition continues to increase, mandatory non-instructional fees and textbook costs have jumped considerably, and the route to meaningful employment following graduation is less clear than in the past. Mental health is a critical issue in our society, and I’m glad there more attention is being paid to it.
Over the last few years, and during the time that I spent as Vice-President (Academic) of the Students’ Union (2011-2012), mental health was one of the executive’s priorities. SU Presidents such as Nick Dehod and Rory Tighe placed considerable emphasis on improving mental health, and worked tirelessly to make this a reality. The Fall Reading Week proposal, which is still ongoing, is one of the many examples of enhancing mental health within the University of Alberta, by giving students a nine-day break in either late October or early November. I feel confident in saying that mental health was a priority of not only the SU executives of years past, but the Students’ Union as a whole.
The thing is, no matter how involved or spirited you happen to be, you will likely need a break at some point. It’s simply impossible to go and go and go, and expect that you will be happy. Everyone goes through ups and downs, and though some people’s life experiences better prepare them to cope with adversity, we all need support at some time or another. Thus, the $10.5 million funding going to university-focused mental health in Alberta is a much-needed decision. Moreover, the $3 million provided to the University of Alberta will hopefully contribute to an improvement in the support networks that exist for students. At the moment, there are definitely a number of support systems that exist for students – Lister residence, fraternities, sororities and varsity sports team all come to mind – but there is always room for improvement, particularly as the student body enlarges and diversifies.
With the responsibilities of a typical university student in constant transformation – students must now often work part-time, strive for scholarships and take full-time courses in order to maintain them – I hope that the funding facilitates students’ transition to university life, and then provides check-ups throughout each semester. On top of this, it is great to see students, universities and government collaborate on this issue, and I hope to see the same take place on other issues of importance in the future.
As further reading material, I encourage you to read this article published in the Harvard Business Review and reflect on what it is that you want out of 2013.
CC photograph courtesy of vious21 on Flickr.