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How student mental health issues have changed

Among the changes university health professionals have seen is increased stress from growing cultural diversity, as well as changed academic expectations.

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From the stresses of intercultural dating to increased expectations of getting As, experts reflect on what's changed over the past 15 years.

As a psychologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough and co-chair of postsecondary student mental health with the Canadian Association of Colleges and Universities Student Services, Tayyab Rashid has been well positioned to observe the state of mental health among Canada's universities over the past 15 years.

"Trends I've seen is more severe cases, more chronic cases and more crises," he says.

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One change in particular that he notes is that as some Canadian campuses have become dramatically more diverse over the last 15 years, particularly in urban areas, counselling centres still lack culturally specific competence.

He uses the example of a South Asian, Muslim student dating someone from another culture, and feeling that she cannot talk to her parents about the relationship. These are the kinds of stresses that can affect students' mental health and the kind that Canadian universities need to be aware of and to help resolve Dr. Rashid says.

Stanley Kutcher, a psychiatry professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, says that the level of expectations, both from the students themselves and their families, has become a greater factor adding to stress in the past 15 years.

"The expectation is that everybody gets an A," he says. "It's a real issue. We've had grade inflation [in high school] for two decades."

Verity Turpin, the assistant vice-provost of student affairs at Dalhousie, says what has changed the most in the past 15 years is the way that university health services collaborate with each other, from counselling services, to doctors or social workers. Dalhousie is in year three of a five-year strategy to examine how the university supports students' health and wellness.

"Before we had all these great services working almost in isolation and not strategically," she says. "Now we are working much more intentionally with our students and using data and research to inform how we make those investments and how we work."

The school now has a building dedicated to interdisciplinary health models, to better serve the students.

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