Ontario boosts funding for post-secondary mental health services by $6 million

Minister Deb Matthews announced additional funding at U of T press conference

Ontario boosts funding for post-secondary mental health services by $6 million

On May 3, the Ontario government announced that $6 million in additional funding for mental health services will be provided to post-secondary institutions over the next three years. This funding is on top of the annual $9 million currently provided to support students’ mental health.

Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, announced the new funding initiative at the Koffler Student Services Centre Wednesday morning. She was joined by Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Andrea Levinson of U of T’s Department of Psychiatry, and Mathias Memmel, President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU).

“Our government is committed to creating a more coordinated and responsive mental health system in Ontario,” said Matthews. “We have heard from students, faculty, administrators and others that there is a rising demand for mental health services on campus.”

The announcement followed the release of the 2017 provincial budget, which includes incoming initiatives such as a $465 million investment to make prescription drugs free for those aged 24 and under. The budget also provides for expanding access to psychotherapy services while developing a new, publicly funded psychotherapy program aimed at helping people living with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

During the press conference, all of the speakers emphasized the difficulty of transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood for college and university students. According to Levinson, data shows that there was a 400 per cent increase in students registered with mental illness disabilities within Ontario’s post-secondary institutions between 2004 and 2014.

Hoskins went into detail about the province’s structured psychotherapy program, stating that it will provide over 100,000 Ontario residents with access to cognitive behavioural therapy. This practice focuses on the link between thoughts and behaviours and aims to provide individuals skills and strategies to use when they may be distressed as a result of their disorders.

The province is also promoting the expansion and creation of nine “youth wellness hubs,” which will provide what Hoskins calls a “one-stop shop” for individuals under 25 to access services such as primary care, social services, and mental health support.

Matthews noted that the province supports the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, where institutions can access expert advice to help students with mental needs. Earlier this spring, the province provided funding to every college and university in Ontario to hire a mental health worker on campus to work directly with students.

The now-$15 million in yearly funds “means more helping hands, more safe spaces, more top quality resources who are non-judgemental people to talk to,” Matthews said. “It will promote a greater culture of openness when it comes to talking about mental health.”

Speaking on behalf of the UTSU, Memmel concluded the press conference with a call for partnership between the provincial government, university administration, and student organizations to better support students when it comes to their mental health.

Last week, a close friend of mine who needed help had so little confidence in the health and wellness services on their campus that he chose to go to [the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] instead. That can’t happen, said Memmel. 

The resources that exist at post-secondary institutions need to have the full and complete trust of students, especially in times of emergency. That confidence can only be created when programs receive sufficient funding from the province,” Memmel stated, “so that organizations like the UTSU can, in good faith, direct its students to on-campus resources, and these resources have to be provided and custom tailored by the university itself.”

Province renews cap on post-secondary tuition fee increases for two years

Renewal to coincide with rollout of new tuition grants

Province renews cap on post-secondary tuition fee increases for two years

The province has extended the three per cent annual cap on university and college tuition fee increases, with the cap scheduled to last for another two years.

The limit was set to expire in 2017 and takes place amidst the rolling out of the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG), which will see OSAP integrated with a number of distinct provincial and federal grants and loans to create a holistic system of financial aid. Between the rollout of the OSG and the imminent question of whether or not the Ontario Liberals will retain control of Queens Park after the 2018 election, there is significant pressure on the government to implement reforms.

University of Toronto Students’ Union President Jasmine Wong Denike views the extension of the caps not as an end in itself, but rather as a process through which to enact broader reform.

“Although I don’t think that renewing the tuition increase caps is sufficient, I see it as an opportunity for the government to meaningfully consult students, and student-run organizations, on their policy suggestions to ensure that as many students as possible have access to affordable, high-quality education,” she told The Varsity.

Denike continued: “The OSG and the extension of the caps heading into 2017 prove to be an interesting change, and given the upcoming Provincial Elections (2018) it gives students a real advantage in engaging with the government to ensure that student issues, especially tuition, play a major role moving forward.”

Deb Matthews, who is Ontario’s Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, describes the extension as a stopgap measure before full financial aid reform.

“Limiting tuition fee increases balances affordability for students and their families, while providing postsecondary institutions with financial stability as we work to transform OSAP – making tuition free for low-income students and more affordable for students from middle-income families,” Matthews said in a press release. “Moving forward, we’ll continue to ensure that every qualified student has access to postsecondary education through our generous student financial aid program.”