New Brunswick

Student mental health studied in Mount A conference

Mount Allison University and provincial officials are hoping to shed light on the issue of student mental health by hosting a conference on the subject.

Mount Allison University and provincial officials are hoping to shed light on the issue of student mental health by hosting a conference on the subject.

The university and the provincial government have brought together experts and educators to examine the problems students are facing and to help come up with solutions.

Patrick Losier, a third-year student at Mount Allison University, is helping out with the conference, which is being called "Student Mental Health: Partners in Accessibility."

Students are under a lot of pressure, Losier said.

"They might be faced with financial stress, so the burden of the ever-rising cost of university education, they might be facing a difficult time transitioning from high school, a difficult time finding themselves fitting in, in the university community," Losier said.

Robert Campbell, the university's president and vice-chancellor, said estimates show that about 15 per cent of students have some sort of anxiety or mental health condition that may need the help of others.

Campbell is also the chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada Committee on Mental Health.

He said the purpose of the conference is to see what educators can and can't do.

How to handle

"What are going to be good policies and procedures, how do we build up our capacity in this area, what things can we appropriately do and what are things best left to medical authorities?" Campbell said.

The conference comes at a time when anxiety disorders rate as the most common mental health problem among those aged between 15 and 25.

Campbell said students are more willing to talk about the issue and attitudes are changing.

"In the past we've been more likely to say to people ‘buck up or take a couple days off’ or give them a kick in the seat of the pants," Campbell said. "But we really know that there are some technical medical issues here that are challenging."

Retired senator Michael Kirby, a longtime advocate for people who suffer from mental illness, said the university is on the right track.

"Because what happens now is the illness doesn't get treated, and people end up going downhill slowly and they end up either on social assistance, or on the streets, or in prisons or whatever."

Recognizing problems early is key, Kirby said.

"Seventy per cent of adults with a mental illness had the onset of that illness under the age of 20," he said.

"If we could only get it diagnosed and treated when it first begins, the individuals who get the mental illness would be able to lead a very reasonable and normal life, and from a financial standpoint, we'd save society a lot of money."

Premier David Alward gave the address at the opening night banquet on Sunday.