Study says over 6 per cent of post-secondary students self-harm

KAMLOOPS, B.C. (CUP) — Mental health professionals are alarmed over self-harm on campus after a recent report revealed 6.6 per cent of post-secondary students had intentionally hurt themselves in the last year and up to 20 per  cent had done so at some point in their lives.

“The statistic is unsettling,” said Cliff Robinson, head of counselling at Thompson Rivers University. “But the thing that’s most sad for me is that for some people it’s easier to cut than it is to talk about their own mental health condition, and that speaks to stigma about mental health and mental illness.”

Self-harm among post-secondary students was one of four indicators marked red for “significant concerns.” Another eight came in yellow for “some concerns” or uncertain results. Only one indicator measured in the green. Released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) last week, the report measured 13 indicators of Canadian mental health, including self-harm among college students. Other indicators include suicide rates, anxiety among school-aged youth, anxiety or mood disorders in seniors and hospital readmissions within 30 days due to mental illness.

The report is part one of what the MHCC calls the “most comprehensive set of indicators for mental health illness in Canada,” measuring 63 different indicators of mental illness. Results on the other 50 indicators will be released in April.

According to Robinson, only a small percentage of self-harm cases are actually suicidal. People may also self-harm as a way to deal with personal upheaval, anxiety, depression or as a coping mechanism for emotional distress. He also said not everyone who admits to self-harm is hospitalized.

“We’re not going to overreact on your behalf,” Robinson said. “Our job is to figure out what it’s going to take for you to deal with whatever mental health thing you’ve got going on, and in a vast majority of cases, you’re going to come in and talk to us and [the rest of the time] it’s business as usual.”

“They may have self-harming behaviours, but you need to have a much fuller understanding of what might be driving those behaviours and then refer them properly,” McLean said.

Robinson said he is excited to read the full report come April, but knows it will highlight how much work is ahead for mental health professionals like him.

“We will no longer have the excuse of ‘we didn’t know,’ or that excuse that I often use, which is ‘I can only speak to my own clients,’” he said. “Now I kind of know what my clients are saying in the context of people in general, and we’ve got to put some money and resources and strategic planning into where the problems are.”

Mount Allison University offers mental health services through the Wellness Centre located in the Wallace McCain Student Centre. These services include weekly visits by a psychologist.

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