Posted on April 5, 2018
The Rossy Family Foundation has donated $2 million to help address the growing crisis in mental health among post-secondary students. The gift is the foundation’s third major donation towards student mental health, following gifts of $2 million in 2014 and $1 million in 2017 to U of T’s Health and Wellness Centre. This support, together with more than $6.7 million in investments from the University, has enabled a wholesale change in the way U of T addresses mental health challenges among students.
“The Rossy Family Foundation has accelerated a badly-needed shift at U of T where health and wellness is no longer the sole responsibility of a central office,” says Janine Robb, Executive Director of the Health and Wellness Centre. “We’re now leading the integration of student mental health into the culture, process and policies of the entire university.” Overwhelming demand for mental health services prompted the changes to the Centre’s focus. Last year, for instance, there were nearly 24,000 mental health visits provided to 3,902 students across U of T’s three campuses, burdening the centralized model.
The demand for mental health services at U of T is part of a trend across Canadian post-secondary institutions
The demand for mental health services at U of T is part of a disturbing trend across Canadian post-secondary institutions. A 2016 survey by the Ontario University and College Health Association found that 46 per cent of post-secondary students reported feeling so depressed in the previous year it was difficult to function at home and at school. The National College Health Assessment also reported that 14 per cent of Canadian students seriously considered suicide, up from 11 per cent in 2013. These numbers indicate a growing crisis among university students that the Rossy Family Foundation is helping to confront.
“We’re delighted to support the important work of the University of Toronto’s Health & Wellness Centre and its national partners,” says Sara Pedersen, Program Director at the Rossy Family Foundation. “The progress achieved with help from our first donation was very exciting, and we were inspired to help build on that investment to benefit the mental health of all Canadian post-secondary students.”
Prevention, accessibility characterize U of T’s new approach
A major area of focus for U of T’s new approach is prevention. This includes training students to manage their own mental health, equipping student leaders and faculty members to recognize students who seem to be struggling, and hosting conferences and workshops to assist students experiencing academic setbacks.
Another major priority is to expand the centre’s capacity to provide care for students in more accessible locations by hiring more embedded wellness counsellors and mental health nurses, and increasing group programming to reduce isolation.
Feedback from students who use the centre has been overwhelmingly positive. The reaction of this student (name withheld), who took part in the mindfulness-based cognitive behaviour therapy group, is typical: “I have more love and acceptance for myself and others, and connectedness to everything around me. I still have difficult moments, but I am not dragged down with them, and when I do have dark moments, I recuperate quicker.”
For both U of T and the Rossy Foundation, a key objective is to share findings and best practices nationally. The first donation helped launch the Best Practices Network in Higher Education, together with Queen’s and McGill, which is emerging as an important hub for post-secondary mental health professionals. The new gift will extend the capabilities of this network while also supporting the launch of a landmark health and well-being survey designed for the Canadian context.
“We’re very grateful to the Rossy Family Foundation,” says Robb. “They’ve taken a leadership role in shifting the approach to post-secondary education health and wellness.”