Earlier this month, in room full of students, staff, and community members in downtown St. John’s, Choices for Youth (CFY) released Thinking Well, a new report on mental wellness for post-secondary students in Newfoundland and Labrador. In partnership with RBC Future Launch, CFY staff spent the first half of 2019 reaching out to students, staff, faculty, and community partners all over Newfoundland and Labrador.
They had a lot to say. Mental wellness is one of the biggest issues on campuses all over the world, and Newfoundland and Labrador is no exception. If you scale national statistics down to our student population, we would expect to see:
11,000 post-secondary students who are experiencing depression
4,500 post-secondary students who have been treated for anxiety
3,250 post-secondary students who have seriously considered suicide, and more than 500 who have attempted it
When we checked in with students in Newfoundland and Labrador, they confirmed that they were:
Under pressure: 63% rated their own mental health as fair or poor, 32% as good or very good. None said “excellent”.
Stressed out: 58% said that most of their days were quite stressful or extremely stressful.
Working on self-care: Most (64%) said they were doing fairly well, well, or very well at taking care of their mental health. 30% said “not well”.
Struggling to cope: 41% of students said that when they do run into challenges with their mental health, they don’t feel like they can handle them well.
On the flip side, though, students and staff were all full of ideas, solutions, and next steps – and there was a lot of agreement on what those would look like. The report contains many common themes. It also has some recommendations for change: from investments in peer support and physical spaces, to transformational programs to support resiliency and coping skills, to training for faculty and staff who are often first responders to students in crisis.
Thinking Well was supported by the unique partnership between CFY and RBC’s Future Launch. RBC Future Launch is a $500 million investment in preparing youth for the future world of work. RBC recognizes that mental wellness, particularly for post-secondary students, is a major component of that success. The students and staff we spoke to for this report saw clearly how the future of work – the gig economy, the “always-on” expectations, the flexible workplaces – require a whole new set of mental skills. The feedback we got through Thinking Well will help RBC understand how mental wellness fits into this picture and how it could be supported.
At the same time, CFY is in the midst of a provincial expansion of its own services; the conversations we had with post-secondary students and staff are going to be incredibly valuable as we build out what that expansion looks like. We know that there are places where community agencies have a role to play in supporting students – and now we understand how that could work.
This report is important, but it’s only the beginning. The day after it launched, senior leaders from government, community agencies, RBC, and the post-secondary sector gathered for a brainstorming session to start turning recommendations into reality, and those conversations are going to continue in the months ahead. As always, we are humbled by the thought and effort all of our colleagues and participants have put into this process – things really are changing.