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Demand for mental health support services spikes at BU

The Brandon Sun - 2/6/2018

Brandon University has seen a tenfold increase over the past decade in the number of students seeking support services for mental health.

Advocates of these services say the trend is linked to a greater awareness being brought to mental health in both universities and society at large.

Data provided to The Sun show that in the 2007-08 school year, six students sought support services at BU for a mental health disability, accounting for 11 per cent of the 55 students who were accessing these services.

The number of students accessing supports for mental health grew to 69 in the 2016-17 school year, making up 33 per cent of the 209 students in total who were accessing services.

Michelle Magnusson, student accessibility co-ordinator at BU, said there is less of a stigma around mental health, with yearly promotions such as the Bell Let's Talk campaign helping to raise awareness around the issue, and more students are identifying as having a disability as a result.

"Our institutions are doing a good job of ... promoting that there are services and supports available for all students, and (in) particular, students with disabilities and barriers," Magnusson said.

Students require medical documentation in order to qualify, Magnusson said, and accommodations may include writing an exam in a quiet space, being given extra time for a test, using computer software to read questions, recording lectures, or having a note-taker or tutor.

Services are also available for students who have a cognitive disability, such as ADHD or autism, a physical disability, or someone who may have broken their arm during the school year.

But where a cognitive disability would have made up 40 per cent of all services provided 10 years ago, today it has become on par with mental health.

Magnusson is working to compile all of the data available on student accessibility to get a better idea of how these services are working for students, including the number of test accommodations that are made.

The work is still in its infancy, but the preliminary data has shown that in 2016-17, the university made 1,148 test accommodations.

Beyond the university, Magnusson said the hope is students will feel encouraged to advocate for themselves in other aspects of their lives, such as employment or housing.

"An accommodation is the idea of levelling the playing field for students with barriers. It's not to give an unfair advantage," she said.

Brandon University Students' Union president Nick Brown cast aside the notion that students are being coddled when it comes to mental health supports in particular.

"We are simply giving people an opportunity to get a better education in life," he said.

"If you have the ability and the drive to go to post-secondary education and better yourself, then we will help you through that."

Magnusson said students with disabilities are still required to show that they understand the material they are studying, just like anyone else.

And while more can always be done, whether it's hiring more counsellors, physicians or educators, she said society has done a better job of

destigmatizing mental health.

"I think that we all have barriers, we all have some type of a barrier at some point in our lifetime," Magnusson said.

"Really that's what it comes down to. We're allowing, and hopefully we're teaching, individuals who have barriers to be able to advocate for themselves, to reduce those barriers in whatever it might be."


» Twitter: @mtaylorlee


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