Queen's Park, the seat of the Ontario government. DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities has announced a partnership with Good2Talk, giving the postsecondary confidential support service $1 million for text-based mental health support, available for free to all postsecondary students in Ontario.

At a press conference at Ryerson University, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano introduced the program, speaking about the drastic increase in mental health concerns in students across Ontario. “We’re seeing such an increase [in] demand for services,” said Romano. “We’ve come now to a realization: mental health is health.”

Tracking the increase in demand for mental health services, he made note that 131,000 students accessed mental health support on their campuses in 2013. He also cited a 2015 survey of postsecondary students in Ontario that revealed 50 per cent of students experienced some level of overwhelming depression, and 65 per cent of students experienced some level of overwhelming anxiety. Fourteen per cent of students reported having felt suicidal over the previous calendar year.

Over the past two years, U of T experienced three apparent deaths by suicide at the Bahen Centre Information Technology, and a fourth apparent death by suicide on campus. Romano added that the service will be well-advertised, particularly to Indigenous communities, as “the services are there but not enough people are aware of them.” He further noted that the provincial government has allotted $3.8 billion to mental health services over the next decade, and $16 million within the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

Senior Vice President Alisa Simon of Kids Help Phone, one of the organizations involved in running Good2Talk, described the details of the text line during the press conference. Simon noted that over 140,000 students have used Good2Talk since it started in 2013, demonstrating that “this service is tremendously needed.”

One feature of the text line is recognizing those who are more at risk for self-harm and allowing them to be helped first, with 90 per cent accuracy and in under 40 seconds. “We make sure that those students most in need of help will get it quickly,” said Simon.

The service is bilingual, offering support in English and French, and does not use data, minutes, or require an internet connection to access. The texting service is staffed by 2,000 trained volunteers nationwide and overseen live by professional supervisors.

Students can access the free, confidential service by texting “Good2TalkON” to 686868.

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566

Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454

Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600

Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200

U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die, looking for a way to kill oneself, talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain, talking about being a burden to others, increasing use of alcohol or drugs, acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or feeling isolated, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, displaying extreme mood swings.

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

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