Ontario is trying to fix the mental health crisis on campus

Ontario is investing in graduating mental health professionals faster while spending on campus mental health support

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Parents across Canada know the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on young people’s mental health.

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“I had two daughters who graduated (during the COVID era) and I have seen the impact of the pandemic on post-secondary students from my own personal experience,” says Jill Dunlop, Ontario Secretary of State for Colleges and Universities. “It obviously took a toll on the students.”

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Dunlop is trying to address the province’s shortage of mental health professionals by investing in ways to qualify professionals more quickly and efficiently.

At the same time, her government is also investing in overall mental health on campus as students exit the pandemic and return to class.

These measures include the “groundbreaking” Get A-Head (GAH) technology that was recently implemented across all Ontario post-secondary institutions in 2020 following a successful pilot at the University of Waterloo.

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The digital platform for mental health education and delivery will help mental health professionals advance faster by making it easier for graduate students to complete their required clinical hours. The platform brings students together with the mentally ill and enables digital support from trainers.

“It was something that happened because of COVID, but when students returned to class they preferred to have this virtual option,” Dunlop tells the National Post. “So I think that’s really key that this program is being offered on campuses across Ontario.”

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Minister for Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop.
Minister for Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop. Photo by Bruce Bell

The patented “one-way mirror” allows educators to monitor their students’ online therapy sessions online without obstacles. Typically, teachers must be physically present while students deliver therapies to patients, which can disrupt the flow of the session.

In addition, GAH uses a matching algorithm to match patients who need psychiatric care with graduate students who want to accumulate clinical hours. Over 10,000 sessions have already been logged since the beginning of the academic year.

“I love the AI ​​technology behind the Get A-Head program and the work being done to ensure psychology students can get their internship hours to graduate as professionals because we need them in this field,” Dunlop says.

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Ahad Bandealy is the mind behind the mental health training and delivery platform. During his PhD in behavioral health at the University of Toronto in 2009, which he later interrupted to create the Get-A-Head platform, Bandealy realized that the system of therapeutic monitoring was flawed.

So he developed one better opportunity to both train and supervise future mental health professionals while providing care.

According to Bandealy, Ontario’s investment in programs like Get A-Head “gives students the tools they need and provides an efficient path to graduation for any individual pursuing a career in mental health.”

dr Dillon Browne, assistant professor of psychology at Waterloo University, says the training program that debuted on his campus “simultaneously meets several of our professional goals in one fell swoop — service delivery, professional training, and research.”

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Currently, Ontario universities require students to undertake unpaid internships during their studies, and they rarely receive a scholarship.

“If we don’t pay our brightest people for graduate study, we will lose them to our industry and there will be a brain drain from our public institutions to the private sphere before advanced degrees are awarded.”

Currently, only a fraction of psychology students in Ontario graduate to become mental health professionals compared to other provinces.

Ontario admits only 138 graduate students in psychology each year, and only 69 percent complete their doctorates. By comparison, Quebec enrolls an average of 282 students annually, 90 percent of whom graduate.

According to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Ontario ranks ninth among all provinces in both the number of registered psychologists (2018: 3,809 in Ontario vs. 8,734 in Quebec) and psychologists per 100,000 (2018: 26 in Ontario vs. 53 in Quebec). ).

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A major obstacle for Ontario students is the long and expensive path to professional accreditation. While Quebec universities offer a combined master’s doctoral program that takes four to six years, in Ontario it can take up to 12 years for students to complete all university requirements.

Aside from fast-track graduate programs, the government has invested $24.5 million in university mental health support this year alone. Dunlop emphasizes the importance of “having those supports available”.

dr Sylvain Roy, past president of the Ontario Psychological Association, says the province’s investments represent a shift in government thinking and a step in the right direction to support the mental health needs of Ontario residents.

“Ontario hasn’t historically prioritized mental health and the mental health workforce,” he says.


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