Provincial funding pays off as Lambton College aims to continue mental health supports

Lambton College in Sarnia. (Photo by Lambton College)

An increased demand for mental health supports among postsecondary students goes well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, but funding this year has allowed Lambton College to take a look at the overall picture and expand services.

The Ontario government recently announced $151,154 in funding to support mental health resources at the college. The investment was part of an additional $8.7 million earmarked for postsecondary schools in November through the 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review.

Lambton College Associate Vice President of Student Success Kurtis Gray said the one-time funding is a step in the right direction.

“We’re really excited about being able to expand the mental health offerings that students have at Lambton College,” he said. “We look at this as a holistic, campus-wide approach. Our mental health strategy goes far beyond service areas.”

Gray said the provincial funding was spread out over various projects such as online resources and peer-to-peer support groups. The school also added to its clinical support team by having a nurse practitioner on campus and a part-time psychologist. A new virtual counselling role was also introduced in the fall, in addition to regular counselling services.

Gray hopes funding for mental health supports from the province will continue but if not, the college does have funding in place for the academic year.

“Our goal is to continue without mental health efforts with or without this funding,” he said. “It certainly does help us pilot different projects, and invest more in what we can do campus-wide.”

A mental health audit was also conducted in order to determine what services are actually bettering students’ wellbeing, and where gaps in services may be. Gray said data from the audit is still being analyzed.

“Overall, as a college, we’ve done an exceptional job at providing mental health support. I think the evaluation and assessment framework in really learning to assess the data that we have will be an important next step.”

Although the need for mental health support may have been enhanced during the pandemic, the demand for resources has been growing for a few years now. Gray said there has been an increase in demand since approximately 2015-2016.

“I think there has been a lot of education and awareness and work around stigma. As a result, students have been very open to accessing services,” he said.

In total, the 2021 Ontario budget included $28.5 million in funding for mental health supports at postsecondary institutions across the province for the 2021-2022 term.