UofT’s Psychiatrist-in-Chief Speaks on the Importance of Fostering Sustainable Mental Health Initiatives for Students

An address by Dr. Andrea J. Levinson, Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Health & Wellness, The University of Toronto on May 3 2017 at The University of Toronto:

“Today I  speak on behalf of all the staff who work on the front-line delivering mental health services and supports to post-secondary students: we are truly grateful and thrilled to receive this funding announcement which will have such a positive impact on all students and their mental health across our province of Ontario.

We know that three quarters of lifetime mental disorders have their first onset during the typical postsecondary education age of 18-24 years. This is the time when the early symptoms of mental illness often emerge. These early warning signs, if left undiagnosed and untreated, leave young adults vulnerable to worsening health, a significant impact on daily functioning and with more likelihood of disengaging from supports and leaving school altogether.  We also know that 83 per cent of Ontario’s Emerging Adults or Transitional Youth participate in postsecondary education. Our campuses are the workplace and also the playground of our young adult population.

Students embarking on postsecondary learning go through a number of complex transitions. They transition to more stressful learning environments, they move away from home and daily family support, and they shift to learning new life skills. Our students who  previously may have had access to mental health care as children and adolescents, require a shift from the paediatric to the adult health-care system right at the same time that they transition to campus life. Often they need to find an entirely new health-care team within a brand new geographical location. Postsecondary institutions are well positioned and play a vital role in bridging students from the pediatric to adult heath care providers. When young adults start to experience mental health or addiction concerns, it can be very challenging to navigate the health care system. We know that ensuring easy and prompt access to supports on campus, will improve students’ health and educational trajectory.

I wish to highlight some recent survey data from the 2016 NATIONAL College Health Assessment survey where 25000+ postsecondary students from across Ontario self-reported high rates of symptoms of depression where it impacted functioning, overwhelming anxiety and thoughts of suicide over the past year. We know that the number of students registered with mental illness disabilities within Ontario’s postsecondary institutions has increased more than 400 per cent between 2004 and 2014.

Our government has a goal to provide health care in the right place, at the right time for individuals. The convergence of emerging adults on our campuses provides an exceptional opportunity to facilitate early intervention and support for this key subgroup of our population, our adults of tomorrow, filled with promise, talent and a bright future. Current wait times within community and hospital-based mental health services are such that many students would be at serious risk of dropping out of school before they make it to their assessment. Our students require timely and flexible access to supports, as the school year has real timely demands.

Many campuses across Ontario, and here at the University of Toronto, have developed campus-wide mental health strategies with ongoing work in areas where mental health intersects with policy, awareness, training, advocacy and anti-stigma work,  inclusive curriculum and pedagogy and service delivery on campus. Universities and colleges have identified mental health as a top priority, with a focus on creating sustainable mental health initiatives for students. There has been excellent work in implementing mental health education, training and programming on campuses, which focus on positive mental health for all students.

The support of the Ontario government and this announcement of specific mental health funding to postsecondary settings recognizes and affirms the key role our campuses play in ensuring that our emerging adults reach their fullest potential. Thank you.”

Dr. Andrea J. Levinson, Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Health & Wellness, The University of Toronto

Dr. Andrea Levinson is the Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Health & Wellness, University of Toronto. Dr. Levinson is responsible for the provision and management of psychiatric services to U of T students, primarily from the St. George campus. She supervises all of the psychiatric activity at the Service, and acts as a resource for the university community on high risk cases across the campus.

Dr. Levinson has been an active faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry since 2007, and was a Resident in Psychiatry from 1999-2005. She is also a graduate of the Clinician Scientist Program and received a Masters of Science degree for her research in that program. In addition to founding the very successful Early Intervention Clinic for patients with mood disorders at CAMH and extensive experience in youth psychiatry, she has developed an independent program of research on cortical inhibition in mood disorders and is an inaugural member of the Temerty Centre at CAMH. She is also an extremely popular and talented teacher of residents and medical students.