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Report calls for mandatory mental-health curriculum starting in kindergarten

A new report from the College Student Alliance, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities highlights a growing mental-health need among students.

Gazal Kukreja wants a more holistic approach to mental health.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Gazal Kukreja wants a more holistic approach to mental health.

Gazal Kukreja found herself struggling when she arrived at Western University a few years ago.

Despite being in a highly competitive program, she felt like she was the only person unable to keep up. Things got worse when she suffered two concussions playing flag football.

"I often felt like I stuck out and that I couldn't make it known," said the Oakville native. "Being away from home was really challenging for me."

The difficult transition between high school and post-secondary is just one time when students are vulnerable to mental-health issues. A new report from the College Student Alliance, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities highlights a growing mental-health need among students and says the institutions can't face the issue alone.

While resources are available on Ontario's campuses, they aren't enough to keep up with the demand, said Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, which represents 24 public institutions across the province.

"That can't continue," said Franklin. "So we are asking the government to come to the table, in part to say what's the magnitude of this challenge we're all facing together and how do we start funding it appropriately so our students know they can rely on the supports they need when they need them.

"We think there is really a need to look at what supports are out there in the community, so that colleges and universities can rely on the network of community mental health providers, so that when they recommend that a student see somebody, there's actually somebody to see and they're not facing a big wait time to see them."

The report calls for a "whole community" approach to treatment and for mental health to become a mandatory part of the curriculum, starting in kindergarten.

Kukreja, now 22 and a master's student, thinks education would have helped: particularly coping skills such as self reflection, journaling and even the importance of exercise.

"Over the past four years I have made an active effort to build those skills myself," she said, adding institutions need to do more to prevent mental-health issues and not just react to moments of crisis.

"If we do that we can help students succeed for a lifetime, rather than just dealing with the right now."

With files from the Canadian Press

Other recommendations in the report include:

• Updating Ontario's Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy to recognize post-secondary students as a distinct group, based on research showing that 75 per cent of mental-health disorders first appear among people aged 18 to 24.

• Creating close working relationships between post-secondary institutions and local health-care and community agencies to develop and implement a plan to help students.

• Free mental-health care for students, on and off campus, through increased services not currently funded by OHIP.

The Canadian Press

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