University of Windsor makes mental health a priority amid Canada-wide student struggle

The University of Windsor is in the process of developing a mental health strategy that they say is in response to the continuous struggle young people have with mental health in Canada.

'In my first year of university I drove myself to the point of insanity'

University of Windsor student Alexander Mason has been dealing with depression and anxiety for about six years. He said he relies on the services on campus as part of his support system. (Arms Bumanlag/CBC)

The University of Windsor is in the process of developing a mental health strategy that they say is in response to the continuous struggle young people have with mental health in Canada. 

In Windsor-Essex alone, one in four youth suffer from a significant mental health issue each year. And wait times for services can be extremely long. 

Student Alexander Mason has been living with depression an anxiety for about six years now, and it's landed him in the hospital multiple times. He has tried to take his own life and has to be extra diligent with his mental health. That made the transition from high school to university quite difficult. 

"In my first year of university I drove myself to the point of insanity… I constantly had that voice in the back of my head saying 'That's not good enough,'" he said. "Especially being a university student you have to work hard, you have to study, keep to your books. But you have to be able to balance."

Mason said he has to check-in and sometimes rearrange his classes to make sure he doesn't get too overwhelmed. He said the services on campus have helped him to do that. 

Director of the Student Counselling Centre, Dr. Mohsan Beg spoke CBC's Arms Bumanlag about mental health initiatives at the University of Windsor. (Simon Rice/CBC)

"They're very reliable especially when it comes to school work or when it comes to exams," he said, adding that they've also helped him with more personal issues and that his support person "replies to him within a day."

But not everyone is able to ask for support like Mason has, said Director of the Student Counselling Centre, Dr. Mohsan Beg.

"One of the most important things is reaching out for help," said Beg, adding that many students wait too long to make that initial call for help or they're not sure if they need it. 

The university sent a survey to students to learn more about how they can make sure they have the supports they need. About 700 students have responded. 

"Some key recommendations that they're wanting to see is having faculty and staff at the university have greater awareness of mental health issues — how to identify them and then how to point them in the right direction, where to go to get help," he said. 

Another thing students said they wanted was an integrated wellness centre, where physicians, counsellors, and other health care professionals would all be available in one place. 

Beg said the university is considering these recommendations, and on Wednesday met with health care professionals in the area to try to find ways to integrate the services offered around the city. 

"I think we have to leverage our relationships in the community and realize we are not on an island ... and bring them on campus," he said. 

St. Clair program

St Clair College has also started a new program to help students with their mental health.

The college has partnered up with the Canadian Mental Health Association to bring a youth outreach worker on campus to work with students.

"I'm seeing that youth are very interested in mental health and they feel that it's an important topic," said Tara Payne, a youth outreach worker at the college.