University of Alberta students rally for more mental health support

Students at the University of Alberta rallied for more mental health supports and funding on campus.

Rally comes after student evicted from residence after attempted suicide

Reed Larsen, students' union president at the University of Alberta, attended the mental health rally Wednesday. (Gabrielle Brown/Radio-Canada)

University of Alberta students spoke at a rally Wednesday about depression, anxiety and frustration when trying to get help on campus.

"We do know there's been a lot of changes since 2016, but we also know that students still routinely get turned away from mental health services on campus because of a lack of space and because of a lack of funding," said students' union president Reed Larsen.

"So it's something that we do want to show that we do need more of."

In January, Radio-Canada reported that a University of Alberta student was evicted from residence after he tried to commit suicide.

The rally was organized as a response to the eviction and for students to show solidarity. Five U of A undergraduate students organized the rally: Alina Lin, Bryn Leonard, Sasha Omeltchenko, Mariam Ahmed, and Anna Opanasenko,

Rory Storm, an economics and drama student, said he experienced an anxiety attack for the first time last year.

He found it confusing at times to get help.

"I tried the peer support centre. I didn't know which one to go to," Storm said. "I tried a psychiatrist. You need an appointment first. How do you get an appointment? You go to a doctor."

Rory Storm, an economics and drama student, speaks at a student rally. (Gabrielle Brown/Radio-Canada)

Larsen feels the university and student groups have done a good job of campaigning about the resources that are available.

"We have to be able to tell students that one, these services exist, but when you go to use them you actually will be admitted. That's one of the biggest problems right now as uptake levels are through the roof."

He hopes mental health related to post-secondary funding will be a priority for the upcoming provincial election.

"We know that the provincial government made investments a few years ago, but we know that we're coming near the end of that investment cycle.

"We do want to see commitments from political parties during this election season to mental health on campuses to ensure that students have the access to the resources they need."

Making progress

Andre Costopoulos, University of Alberta vice-provost and dean of students, commended the students for speaking openly about mental health issues.

There is a high demand for mental health resources, but he feels the university is making headway.

"We've increased by about 15 per cent the number of consults that are available through clinical and counseling services over the past year," Costopoulos said.

The university has a new outreach team which provides informal, immediate support before the student accesses counseling and clinical services

Costopoulos said the university's limited resources are distributed based on the severity of mental health issues.

"We can always use more resources, but we train the best we can to use what we have which is understandably limited," he said. "Our role is to decide how do we organize those limited resources to meet the needs of students."




Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.