A new Students’ Union website called UASU Cares will serve as an online database of mental and physical health resources for students.
UASU Cares launched on November 20, and is online at uasucares.su.ualberta.ca. The website will coordinates services from the campus and community to connect students with resources. The website was an initiative started by previous Students’ Union vice-president (student life) Francesca El Ghossein, and continued by her successor Ilya Ushakov.
“Finding resources on campus when you need help is a struggle I hear about constantly from the student body and this website directly addresses that,” Ushakov said.
The website is meant to address concerns about student mental health stigmatization raised in a 2016 survey conducted by Studentcare, the healthcare provider for Canadian universities. In the survey, 90 per cent of participants said they believe that stigmatization of mental illness prevents some people from seeking treatment, and 98 per cent said they believe this stigmatization needs to be reduced.
“Presenting the variety of resources we have normalizes the conversation and tackles stigmatization of mental health as a whole,” Ushakov said. “Through our launch later in November, we hope to generate a lot of healthy conversation surrounding mental health and wellbeing.”
The survey was conducted in spring 2016 and included participants from 26 Students’ Union Groups that Studentcare provides health insurance for across Canada, including from the U of A. The primary goal of the survey was to obtain feedback from eligible plan members on their attitudes towards mental health and their knowledge of the resources available to them on campus and online.
“The one thing I found was really interesting is quite a lot of students said they did not access service due to stigma around mental health,” Ushakov said.
Shorter-term plans for addressing student mental health at the U of A include forming an Internal Mental Health Committee dedicated to consolidating peer support resources and making them more effective.
“Something that we want to do in the next three years is developing a university mental health strategy,” he said. “A lot of other schools have this and this is something we want to develop so that we have a resource to actually help students and has an overarching goal with items like tackling stigma.”
Ushakov feels that the state of student mental health at the U of A has come a long way, and that it is “going to continue to be better and better.”
“Five years ago we wouldn’t be talking about mental health,” he said. “Now we’re actively engaging with the whole concept and we’re looking to improve ourselves and find funding. We really want to enhance it and make it better for every student on campus. I think there’s still a long way to go, but we’re taking the right steps.”
Students seeking support or treatment for mental illness can visit the U of A Peer Support Centre, or visit the UASU Cares website if they want to view all available support programs offered at the U of A.