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Distribution of provincial post-secondary mental health funding leaves some unhappy

By Tina Shaygan, September 13 2017 —

The University of Calgary will receive approximately $1 million in funding for the next three years for mental health services on campus. Advanced education minister Marlin Schmidt announced the funding at Bow Valley College on Sept. 8. The funding is part of a $25.8-million post-secondary mental health investment announced by the Alberta New Democratic Party this June.

“This funding increase amounts to a near tripling of the amount of money we’re investing in health supports across all campuses,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt added that it’s important to ensure students feel supported on campus. The funding also recommends an “integrated delivery system,” where mental health offerings on campus work to integrate with community services already available through Alberta Health Services.

Students’ Union vice-president external Shubir Shaikh said additional funding for on-campus mental health initiatives has been an advocacy priority for the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) for at least the past four years.

“Recent data has shown that students are more depressed than ever before, at least in the last two decades and we need to make sure that we have support services to address those issues,” Shaikh said. “It can be a life and death situation for some students, unfortunately. That is why we’ve been advocating hard on this issue.”

Student Wellness senior director Debbie Bruckner said that while the funding is still dependent on grant approval from the government, the increase would allow the Wellness Centre to continue to expand its operations.

“We’re continuing to refine our mental health services model. We’re looking at continuing our after-hour supports. We really want to expand our peer-support model and we’re also looking at embedding our social workers and psychologists in places other than the actual Wellness Centre,” said Bruckner.

Bruckner added that the number of students using the SU Wellness Centre for mental health support has increased.

“We have had an increase in the number of students coming forward but it is very important that the context for that is understood,” she said. “We have more people available to see them. We are open longer and we have more locations. And we’ve been doing a lot of awareness training. We really want more students to come and see us.”

However, not all post-secondary institutions are as ecstatic about the announcement. Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) vice-president external Aria Burrell said she is concerned about how the distribution of funding was determined. MRU will receive $280,000 in funding for each of the next three years.

“We’re very concerned about the vast difference in the amount of funding that each institution has received and where that difference is coming from,” she said.

Burrell added that the community integration aspect of the funding has not been well communicated to SAMRU.

“We really need to challenge the government to give us some answers on what community-based health services means for us students and how that will affect marginalized communities on campus,” Burrell said.

Schmidt acknowledged the discrepancy in the amount of funding each institution received. He said various factors determined how much funding each institution receives. According to Buckner, the size of the student population is likely a large factor.

“The recommendation that the post-secondary advisory committee gave is that the funding should somehow reflect the student head count. That was what was factored into the letters that went to each post-secondary that said this is what we’ve determined you’re eligible for according to your student head count,” Buckner said.

However, Shaikh disagreed.

“At the U of C we’re happy about it. However, the U of C received $1 million and University of Alberta also received $1 million, so it is not based on number of students, which we would have liked to see,” said Shaikh.

CAUS echoed these concerns in a written statement.

“While students remain optimistic about the funding received today, there is the continued awareness that this funding has been given to each of CAUS’ institutions based on an unclear funding formula. CAUS has called on the government for mental health funding to be equitable and on a per-student basis, and we will continue to do that,” the statement read.

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