College creates a favourable environment for improving mental health
Young people making the transition to adulthood are a population at risk of developing mental health problems. The statistics are striking: those aged 15 to 24 have the highest prevalence of psychological distress, anxiety or depressive disorders, drug and alcohol related disorders and eating disorders. Suicide ranks second as a cause of death for this age group. The scope of these problems is reaching college (CEGEP) students. Initiatives launched in recent years have aimed at supporting these emergent clienteles, particularly young people with mental disorders and learning disabilities. To support the health needs and well-being of young people, the ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS) and the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) published in 2010, the Cadre de référence pour soutenir la collaboration entre les centres de santé et de services sociaux (CSSS) et les collèges publics du Québec (Framework to support cooperation between CSSSs and public colleges in Quebec).
In Québec, the Healthy Schools initiative has encouraged health promotion activities in primary and secondary schools for many years, putting the relationship between academic success and health and wellness of young people to the forefront. At the college level, we cannot dispute the link between mental health and academic success. However, there are few mental health promotion programs, few resources for updating these programs and some of the activities that are developed are misunderstood and their effectiveness is not evaluated. Also, a strategic reflection initiative aimed at planning interventions in mental health promotion is set to begin at Cégep de l’Outaouais in fall, 2011.
Colleges can positively affect the mental health of students, their academic success and their life path (continuation of studies, job market). Physical activities, participation in extracurricular activities, a feeling of belonging at school and the quality of student services are all factors in mental health protection. It remains essential to reach students with problems and who do not use the services, as well as those at risk of developing problems; but it is also important to support and strengthen factors that can help to maintain good mental health.