Increasing Access to Mental Health for Post-Secondary Students

| Chantelle Spicer | In the beginning of January, the BC government announced plans to provide a 24-hour mental health support service for post-secondary students in the province. This initiative would be a partnership between the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Children and Family Development, and the Ministry of Advanced Education Skills and Training.

This announcement comes following consultation with students across BC including Selkirk College Students Union representatives. Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the Students’s Union, took part in dialogue with Ministry staff in 2018 and is pleased that the government is taking the issue seriously.

“Post-secondary students today are facing unimaginable stressors like rising tuition cost, lack of employment after graduation and difficulty accessing resources during their studies. Projects like this will help fill a need students desperately have.”

Consultation with students is imperative for understanding what is needed for supports, which need to be increasingly culturally and geographically responsive services. BC Federation of Students Chairperson Aran Armutlu states this process has so far been meaningful.

“The Ministry took the time to seek feedback on ideas and initiatives as they evolved, and the outcome of much of that feedback appears to be reflected in the request for proposals that has been released. I am hopeful that the same level of communication will continue as this initiative develops.” 

Selkirk College provides a variety of campus supports including culturally-responsive counselling, health and wellness initiatives, and recreation programs as well as connections to Kootenay community events.

However, these types of services aren’t always accessible to students in need due to hours or lack of resources.

“We are lucky to have such an amazing team in our Student Access and Support Department,” Hernandez explains, “but unfortunately with minimal resources they can only do so much. Even something as simple as booking an appointment is compromised by lack or resource time for our Welcome center staff responsible for booking appointments.”

Many of these supports have been linked to a controversial student services fee that was introduced to universities and colleges across the province in 2016. At Selkirk, this fee increased student fees by $139 to $207 each academic year in addition to the 2% increase on tuition fees.

The service proposed by the Ministry is seeking to provide phone, online chat, text, and email supports as well as confidential virtual counselling sessions for students that would be available around the clock. A total of $1.5 million has already been approved for the first year of the 24/7 support resource, with further hopes of expanding the program to reach high school students in coming years.

A notice of planned procurement has been posted to BC Bid, advising of plans to develop a 24/7 mental health and substance-use counselling and referral service. A competitive process will be posted shortly.