Sault College Students to Pay Out of Pocket to Fund Mental Health Services

Mental health supports will still be waiting for Melissa Cutler when she returns to Sault College in January.

In a referendum held in mid-October, students backed paying $28 more per year for a health support and first aid fee to help support services such as mental health counsellors, First Nation elders in residence, psychologists and a Canadian Mental Health Association mental health educator.

The student help was sought from the college because related provincial funding ends in the spring. The province directed more than $1.2 million in aid since 2013. Sault College will also dedicate dollars to ensure the same level of service continues.

The whole goal was when we started it was to create a sustainable modeal,” director of student services Matt Trainor told reporters following an open portion of a board of governors meeting on Thursday. “We don’t know what’s next for the ministry in terms of mental health funding so we had to do something to be able to maintain a level of service.”

He estimates about 1,200 to 1,400 students tap mental health and disability supports annually.

Cutler tried to take her life in 2013.The Sudbury native has also dealt with depression and anxiety.

It’s great to have actual mental health professionals trained to help you,” said Cutler of services offered at the post-secondary institution. “Not everybody knows how to talk to people that are struggling.”

She has taken prerequisite courses at Sault College that she’ll need for her future studies. Cutler plans to start a one-year personal support worker at the community college next month before beginning work on her four-year nursing degree. She calls the student support for mental health help “awesome” news.

The services are really great,” Cutler told The Sault Star. “I know they help a lot of people. You’d be surprised how much they actually help you get through the school year and keep your grades up and support you.”

She is grateful for the help she gets from counsellor Morgan Levy. The two would meet once or twice weekly. Those sessions touched on school and “my whole life,” said Cutler.

It’s nice to know that I have a friendly, caring person to talk to who actually wants to help,” she said. “Morgan roots for me no matter what I go through and helps me push through the school year.”

Cutler is also impressed with the dedication she’s seen from college staff – such as accompanying her to a doctor’s appointment and extending appointments when needed.

They want to help,” she said. “They will help you get through whatever it is you’re struggling with.”

The supports are helping students in class, especially those with serious mental health issues. Their retention rate, says Trainor, has climbed from 68% to 75% since the mental health hub launched in 2013.

The goal is to keep them in school, rather than them just disappearing or not being able to access community supports,” he said. When community supports help students, Sault College counsellors are part of the care team.

Students have ranked Sault College is ranked No. 1 for counselling and accessibility services for three consecutive years in College Ontario’s Key Performance Indicators, said Trainor.

It is recognized provincially as a good model,” he said of mental health help at the college.

By Brian Kelley

Originally published in the Sault Star on December 18, 2016.

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