Editorial: Addressing Mental Health, Addiction Support and Education In Our Institutions

Youth Need to be Educated on Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

From a young age to well into our later years, our education system seems to be working against our mental health and, at times, our physical health.

With a lack of education on addiction and mental illness, how can we recognize them in ourselves or those around us? How can we understand and address the issues we may face or provide adequate support to a loved one?

Most Canadian schools do not address mental illness or addiction in enough detail in students’ formative years. A report based on Ontario elementary schools found that students in 2013 not only had a lack of resources to seek aid for mental health, but they also had insufficient education on mental health.

Youths in the study noted that the internet was the main source where they find information on addiction and mental health, with media ranked second and school as third. The internet may not always be an accurate source, along with providing a lack of face-to-face support and conversation.

Study participants shared they wanted to learn more about how to properly manage stress, addiction, and mental health earlier.

Statistics identify that 70 per cent of mental health difficulties arise in childhood or adolescence. If children aren’t receiving an adequate detailed education early enough to identify mental illness or addiction, how can they properly know how to identify them and to ask for or seek help?

Along with a lack of support and awareness, this generates a stigma, as the lack of education shows that addiction and mental health is not as important as physical health.

As this issue addresses the growing opioid-related overdoses and deaths in our country, young Canadians need to be aware of the threat of addiction. Those impacted by mental illness may be twice as likely to develop addiction. Alternately, people with substance abuse problems are three times more likely to have a mental illness.

Between January and June 2017, there were 2,066 opioid-related overdose deaths, with nearly 4,000 Canadians passing due to opioid-related deaths.

The history of harm reduction has been fatal, with conservative laws threatening the existence of and ability to open safe injection sites. While laws have changed and Quebec has pushed for free naloxone and different versions of the product, our neighbouring province Ontario may face threats to the lives of opioid users and other users as Premier Doug Ford is set against supervised injection sites. He had halted the opening of three sites in August to review their “merit.”

Despite Ford’s objection, safe injection sites have demonstrated a considerable decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths, as drug test kits are available and healthcare practitioners are on site to handle overdoses with naloxone on hand.

In Vancouver, fatal overdoses decreased by 35 per cent in the area surrounding the safe injection site InSite, while research demonstrates users at InSite are less likely to share needles, which pose a threat to spreading of bloodborne diseases.

The environment we’re in impacts us as well and burnout is a reality that students often face. Chronic stress and emotional exhaustion are widespread.

A recent Health & Wellness report was mandated by Concordia President Alan Shepard last fall in response to an increase in students seeking health services and the school’s counselling and psychological services. The findings state that relaxing spaces such as a nap room should be provided on campus, and that the university should implement a fall reading week.

One of the most challenging change recommended is to address the culture that exists on campus–going from a “survival of the fittest” mentality to one of health and wellbeing instead.

This drive for improved health and wellness can also be seen in the fight against unpaid internships. Many students are forced to experience financial stress while providing free labour.

Students shouldn’t be prioritized based on their class. All students should be paid for their labour and have equal opportunity into the workforce.

The issue of class plays into the services offered at Concordia. On average, students have to wait between five and seven weeks to seek an appointment with a psychologist, unless their needs are urgent. This creates a barrier for students seeking timely support who lack the money to go elsewhere.

With long wait times for therapy and a lack of resorces for students, Concordia needs to step up. The school hasn’t announced yet whether they plan to increase their funding to their health and wellness services on campus.

Outside our institution, we urge our governments to take mental illness and addiction into better account. While conducting reports and opening safe injection sites are vital, funding has to be emphasized and filtered into youth education and services to support students when they need help the most.

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