Posted on March 15, 2016
Mental health is a persistent and urgent challenge affecting millions of Canadians across all age groups, educational and income levels, and cultures. One in five Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and almost every Canadian at some point in their lives will see a family member, friend or colleague grapple with mental illness. And, beyond the great human toll, there are real costs for the Canadian economy: at least $50 billion per year according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
In studying the issue, the Public Health Agency of Canada has found that the majority of mental illnesses first manifest during the transitional years from youth to adulthood (17 to 25), or, in other words, during the period of life when people typically attend university or college and subsequently transition into the work force. In this context, university and college campuses play a key role in addressing mental illness and promoting greater mental health.
The Rossy Family Foundation has recognized the critical obligation universities have to promote student health and well-being with a $1 million gift to support mental health and wellness programs at the University of Toronto.
“This gift is a direct investment in the health, well-being and academic success of our students which will have impacts today, tomorrow and well into the future,” said Janine Robb, Executive Director of Health and Wellness at U of T. It will build on U of T’s innovative work in student mental health and help advance our vision for a comprehensive student mental health framework comprising evidence-based and accessible supports for students across our campuses. The Rossy Family Foundation’s gift will allow us to evaluate innovative mental health programs including embedded counselling, in which some counselling services are moved out of the central wellness service and established within individual faculties on campus. These local services help reduce stigma and offer easier access to care and programming that is customized to the needs, culture and environment of each faculty. Another type of program involves offering new students skill-building sessions to help with the transition to university, covering topics like study skills and coping with stress.
The gift will also support a joint university mental health strategy with McGill and Queen’s universities to share best practices on ensuring that campuses are welcoming, inclusive and supportive and able to offer enhanced services.
“We are proud to enhance the great work being done for student mental health at U of T and on campuses all over the country,” said Sara Pedersen, program director for the Rossy Family Foundation. “We invite other universities, philanthropic organizations, faculty, parents and, of course, students across Canada to join us in our commitment to creating healthy campuses together.”
“We are deeply grateful to The Rossy Family Foundation for collaborating with us on the vitally important issue of student mental health,” said U of T President Meric Gertler. “Together we can build preventative, evidence-based strategies that will make a major difference in the lives of students, particularly those who are most vulnerable.”