Editorial | The Ontario Post Secondary System is Broken, Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the 4-part series. In the last post, I talked about 3 external issues with the post-secondary system in Ontario. That post is here. I focused on the escalating entrance grades, striking staff and increasing tuition costs. In this part, I will focus on 3 internal issues, all pertaining to the pressure-filled environment that university or college is to most students. Like last time, I will include all my resources at the bottom of the post.

Before I begin, I want to thank Alanis Picardo for giving me these three ideas to write about! There would be only 3 parts to this series without her suggestions!

To remind you of the universities and colleges I will be focusing on:

  • The University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Western University, Queen’s University and York University
  • Centennial College, Humber College, George Brown College, Seneca College and Sheridan College

DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY AMONG STUDENTS

Depression and anxiety are not unusual in the education field, but rising rates are worrying many thousands of professionals. These are the two most used words when defining a mental disorder and most readers will mix them up. Depression is defined by, “Feelings of severe despondency and dejection.1 The feeling of having no hope, courage and in low spirits. Whereas anxiety is, “A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.2” The fear of the future. Both relating to mental health but two completely different symptoms.

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

In 2016, 1 in 5 teens aged 13-18 had considered suicide and 44% of them had a specific plan on how to commit the act3. These teenagers are coming into the pressure-filled environment that university or college is with these suicidal thoughts and actions. As they face new problems such as falling grades, deadlines and more, these teenagers are ‘putting themselves down’ and adding insult to injury. Without having any coping mechanisms which work, the college environment can turn sour quickly. In a 2016 survey that questioned 25,000 Ontario students in college and university, students blamed stress 42.9% of the time for lower grades4. That was the number one reason for poor academic results. The number two most blamed topic was anxiety at 33.9%. Sleep difficulties (28.8%) and depression (21.9%) were the third and fourth factors5. Students blamed a mental concern 98% of the time when receiving poor grades. Prevention of these factors will lead to a higher academic performance. Continuing with the survey, 61% of students felt ‘hopeless’ and 46% was depressed6. Anxiety impacted 65.4% of the 25,000 students or 16,000 students.

As the statistics keep flowing, the more severe this issue becomes. With OUCHA survey being two years ago, the numbers would have gone up. From 2013 to 2016, the number of students being overwhelmed with anxiety rose 8% from 57% to 65%7. Extrapolating that data to 2019 yields that 3 out of 4 students in Ontario will have severe anxiety. A large ratio that does not seem correct. No matter where you look, students are becoming more uneasy about going to school.

1 in 5 teens consider suicide

In part 1, statistics showed that the number of students entering university or college grew in the last 10 years. With these escalating numbers of enrollments, more students are experiencing these symptoms. More parents, teachers, professors and even peers are pressured to help in any way they can to boost the positive energy within each student. With the Ontario health care system not covering the costs of a counsellor, a psychologist or a therapist, parents must spend money on the well being of their children. These costs, on top of tuition, creates a much bigger problem among students. Thousands of students are feeling the full force of these mental syndromes and it is a major issue that is impacting the post-secondary life not only in Ontario.

PRESSURE FROM GRADES, GRADUATING AND HOME

Another factor that is adding the issues with the post-secondary system in Ontario is students are feeling more pressured than ever to maintain a high CGPA and graduate within the length specified by their program. There was a 33% increase among students in two types of perfectionism8. ‘Self-oriented’ (high expectations of yourself) and ‘other-orientated’ (high expectations for others). More students are feeling more conscious about themselves among their family and friends. Social media is a major factor to this increase as more students compare themselves to others online. This creates stress and anxiety.

16% of teenagers will not talk about suicidal thoughts because they are worried about how their parents will react

Graduating within the time specified on your program adds to the pressures that come with school. In the Instagram poll which I conducted, 72% of the 72 people who voted are pressured to graduate within 2-4 years9. This ties back to the perfectionism increase. Undergraduate students expect more from themselves and graduating within the length of their program builds confidence in themselves. But with that comes five courses per semester, with no time to waste. With the stress of endless deadlines and tests, students buckle underneath the weight of graduating within the dates stated. In fact, 89% of students in Ontario’s post-secondary system are feeling overwhelmed at the amount of work is being handed to them10. On top of those deadlines, grades impact the confidence of the student. One poor grade in a midterm or exam will dent the goals that the student put out. Strong academic results come from being confident11. The more family and friends focus on the weaknesses of the student, the lower the performance will be.

Another pressure that is placed on students comes from home. Students want to prevail at the tasks given to them by their parents. But this harms students in ways not known to parents. 16% of teenagers will not talk about suicidal thoughts because they are worried about how their parents will react12. They do not want their family to interfere with mental health. “Are parents being too hard on their kids.” No, they are not. But parents are focused on making their children succeed without knowing about different pathways to achieve that success. The more parents push their teenagers on a path they think will make them succeed, the more pressure the kids face. This yields teenagers to be perfect in whatever they do so they can avoid failure and disappointment at home.

Calls from students under 25 to a mental health hotline rose 334% since 2010

Ontario students are not the only students who have to deal with being perfect. This is an underlying problem that targets students at the core. With the stress from home, friends, school and work, students are seeking medical help to deal with the pressure and stress that comes from receiving an education.

THE LACK OF STUDENT SUPPORT AND RESOURCES

Student support is becoming important as more students feel more stressed, pressured and anxious than ever before. In 2017, 10% of 17,000 students in Canada rated their school’s mental health services as poor or horrible13. Since then, schools invested more in councillors and other specialists to help students. But it is not enough. Within the past 5 years, only one college increased their mental health budget out of 15 universities and colleges14. Phone calls from students under 25 to the mental health hotline rose 334% since 201015. As more students face the problems, the more they need support from their schools.

With these added students needing support from their school, universities and colleges try to expand their therapy times to accommodate everyone. The number of appointments made for counselling increased by 35% with the biggest jump happening at Georgian College where it rose 211% in three years16. But at Canada’s number one ranked university (U of T), wait times to see specialists are long. Mental illness conditions now account for 56% of all accommodations at the University of Toronto17. Many students instead look outside of their school to receive the health they need. But as mentioned above, the Ontario health care services does not cover the cost of treatment. This often leads students into a difficult choice to either reduce the coursework until the illness is treated or pay more money to get treated quickly.

A student tries to make sense of the immense amount of studying ahead of her. Increased workloads and higher expectations will lead to intolerable amounts of academic pressure at Sunset and schools all over the world.

In the Instagram poll, 64% of the 78 voters responded by saying that there is a shortage at their school for financial, educational, mental, and physical problems. Furthermore, 58% of the 76 voters said there was a lack of student support18. Not only is mental health issues escalating, but original problems such as financial support is not being fixed. Student support is needed in a time when mental health is the top talking point at Ontario’s post-secondary schools.

CONCLUSION

Stress, anxiety and depression are increasing not only with students but within our society. Students are feeling most of these forces as they battle through receiving their degrees or diplomas. With universities realizing this threat late, many students are dropping out of school or reducing their workload to handle the symptoms. But by doing so, they are disappointing their parents and families. In the world of social media, perfection is on the rise and the younger generation are not coping with poor academic averages. As this trend continues, the burden of any failures leaves a dent in the goals that the student wished to achieve. This leads to anxiety and depression and maybe the worst outcome, suicide. This not an Ontario only problem but something that is impacting the entire world. Without the student support and counselling, this threat can multiply.

Before I leave, if you are a student or know someone who is suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, anxiety, or any other mental illness, please (please) dial 1-866-925-5454 (Good2Talk) to talk confidentially to a counsolor. For anybody else, dial 1-800-273-9255 (National Suicidal Prevention).


Thank you so much for reading part 2 of the 4 part series! This one focused more on the mental side of the students. I know I learnt a lot from the research.

Part 3 will be out next week and it will focus on what these issues mean for Ontario as a whole.

Please follow, like and share!

Bhavik

REFERENCES

  1. Google Dictionary
  2. Google Dictionary
  3. Kid’s Help Phone
  4. OUCHA
  5. OUCHA
  6. OUCHA
  7. CBC
  8. Global News
  9. Instagram Story
  10. OUCHA
  11. American Society for Horticultural Science
  12. Kid’s Help Phone
  13. MacLean’s
  14. The Toronto Star
  15. The Toronto Star
  16. The Toronto Star
  17. The Toronto Star
  18. Instagram Story

The featured picture is of Western University

Images: Western University, Invil, The Scroll

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