EDITORIAL: Stronger supports needed for students’ mental health

Oct 15, 2021 | Editorial

After more than a year of complete isolation in remote learning, returning Humber College students deserve access to stronger and more accessible mental health resources on campus.

The 2020 school year proved to be mentally and emotionally draining for many post-secondary students. The option of turning to peers for help, or taking a break from the day’s overwhelming workload with friends was no longer available, as Ontario faced multiple lockdowns. As a result, mental health took a devastating blow.

The return of on-campus learning seemed to offer an escape from that stress, but as the problems caused by online learning were left in the past, new ones surfaced, and Humber was not prepared to deal with them effectively.

“We need not only more hands on deck, but more hands on deck in a timely manner,” acting Humber College Faculty Union 562 President Milos Vasic said of the college’s counseling services. “There’s quite a bit of burnout among the counselors. They do a fantastic job but it’s not easy.”

He said he doesn’t think the college is doing a great job backfilling positions, or even hiring new positions.

“I am sympathetic to that because it takes a long time to hire someone new, but it just seems like it takes a long time to get counselors in those positions,” he said.

Vasic said that the shortage of counselors means that students who come in seeking help for mental health issues “need to be triaged” and prioritized based on which cases are the “most important.” If this goes on, it will result in students slipping through the cracks and not getting the help they need to manage their mental health, which could become catastrophic.

Counselors have seen more cases of mental health issues among returning students, but also increased severity of cases, which is to be expected after months spent in lockdown, anxiety due to the virus itself, and the tragically high number of lives lost to the pandemic. Balancing a heavy course load, a job, social life, and health is extremely difficult, and not being able to get help when needed in a timely manner can make it difficult for some, unbearable for others.

Another big factor that can affect the mental health of students returning to campus is the cost, compared to staying at home. While tuition fees were still required for online classes, many other costs were not. For example, many students have to either commute to campus or find accommodations.

The cost to stay on residence at Humber ranges from $7,024 to $8,870, plus meal plans which cost $2,350 to $3,400 per academic year. In addition, students face increasing transit fares, gas prices that are predicted to reach $1.50 per litre by the end of the year, and housing that is unaffordable for minimum-wage-working students — especially those who were out of work due to COVID-19 for months at a time.

The Canadian government identifies financial wellness as one of the “three pillars of good health,” and states those facing financial strain are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and sleep loss. Access to adequate mental health resources is a crucial factor in managing this added stress.

While counselors at Humber are dedicated to helping students, they are unable to reach everyone who needs help in a timely manner. The reality of it is this: there are simply not enough counselors to manage the number of students needing support.

To avoid burnout in counselors and take care of Humber’s students, the Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre needs to increase staffing, and soon.