April 10, 2019 4:32 pm
Updated: April 11, 2019 3:32 pm

Staff stretched thin as report says half of UNB students in counselling deal with suicidal thoughts

Mental health professionals at the University of New Brunswick say they've seen a dramatic increase in the number of students seeking counselling services.

Jeremy Keefe/Global News
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More and more students at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) are admitting they’ve had suicidal thoughts.

A recent report conducted by the director of counselling at UNB found that over the last 10 years, the number of students seeking counselling has ballooned by 40 per cent and half of those students say during their first appointment with a counsellor that they’re having suicidal thoughts.

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“Probably on a weekly basis, counsellors are dealing with life-and-death situations,” said Rice Fuller, director of counselling at the university.

“Ten years ago, about three per cent of the students that came into counselling services would’ve been rated as medium to high suicide risk. In 10 years, that number has increased to about 30 per cent.”

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Fuller, who has been on leave since July 2018, says he’s concerned the demand will only continue to increase.

He says he stepped away after being on the job for 10 years, explaining that it was beginning to take a toll.

“We’ve gone from about 740 students per year to about 1,030 students per year so it’s a jump of 300 students, and for a staff our size, that’s a very significant increase,” said Fuller.

He’d like to see an increase in mental health services to allow for the department to retain and hire new psychologists, which may take some of the pressure off the staff of just 11 people.

However, those statistics aren’t necessarily considered alarming. It’s believed more students are coming forward with mental health concerns as the stigma surrounding mental health diminishes.

“We’re also seeing some of the stress levels, some of these issues that students are going through, are extremely high,” said Brock Richardson, director of student services at St. Thomas University (STU).

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STU is also reporting a spike in the number of students seeking help. The university has expanded programs with a focus on education, awareness and coping skills and is even bringing in therapy dogs for students.

“People are more open to talking about mental health now so whereas maybe 10 to 15 years ago, people wouldn’t have identified as having a mental illness, they wouldn’t have talked about feeling really down and considering suicide,” added Richardson.

Earlier this week, the student union donated $300,000 to improve mental health services in the form of a $17 fee paid at the beginning of the year.

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Two psychology students at STU are completing a thesis on students’ well-being and ability to meet their academic demands, measuring levels of coping and resilience. The research showed that resilience is an important factor in that it’s almost a protective factor for doing better in school.

“(Students with high resilience) did better, they were able to meet their academic demands more than those who were lower in resilience,” said fourth-year student Danielle Caissie.

Caissie and her project partner Jessica Gilbert also found that in the past two decades, there’s been an increase in the number of university professionals not being able to meet the demands of students when it comes to mental health services.

“Not having enough in the budget, not having enough staff and just not knowing what type of resources they need,” added Caissie.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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