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.”