Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Supporting Student Wellness: De-Stressing Initiatives at Memorial University Libraries

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Supporting Student Wellness: De-Stressing Initiatives at Memorial University Libraries

Article excerpt

Why Should Academic Libraries Provide Wellness Support?

Mental Health of Canadian University Students

In 2013, for the first time, the American College Health Association (ACHA) National College Health Assessment included Canadian data compiled from 34 post-secondary institutions. What that assessment revealed about the mental health of students attending Canadian universities was troubling. 89.3% of Canadian students reported feeling overwhelmed by their workload, 86.9% reported exhaustion (not from physical activity), 56.5% felt overwhelming anxiety, 63.9% felt very lonely, and 68.5% felt very sad (pp. 13-14). Even more worrisome was that 37.5% reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function and nearly 10% had seriously considered suicide (p. 14). What is more, student stress and anxiety seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. Although no earlier Canadian ACHA data exists to provide a comparison, the most recent Canadian Campus Survey (2005) completed a decade ago by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health compiled similar data. In comparing the results, we found evidence that stress and anxiety levels were rising. Forty universities participated in the 2004 survey making the sample size comparable to the 2013 National College Health Assessment.1 Only 47.3% reported feeling constantly under strain, 30.9% feeling depressed, and a mere 16.8% reported feeling unhappy (Adlaf, Demers, & Gliksman, 2005, p. 65). Interestingly, the Canadian Campus Survey reported that the prevalence of elevated psychological distress among undergraduates showed no statistically significant changes from that recorded in the previous survey conducted in 1998 (p. 114), suggesting that the increase in mental health issues is a more recent trend.

University administrators are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of addressing the issue of student mental health. At Memorial University, Dr. Norman Lee, chief physician at the St. John's Campus Student Health Centre, reported that the centre receives about 18,000 visits a year with the most frequent visits related to depression and anxiety (Barron, 2014, p. 1). Across the country at the University of Victoria, President David Turpin has stated the "prediction for 2020 is that mental illness will be the leading cause of disability at Canadian universities" (Hanlon, 2012, p. 1). In 2010, after Cornell University in New York had 6 students tragically commit suicide, President David Skorton acknowledged that the deaths were just "the tip of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger spectrum of mental health challenges faced by many on our campus and on campuses everywhere" (Lunau, 2012). In Canada, at Ontario's Queen's University, 4 suicides occurred within a 14 month period (2010-2011), prompting the school to establish a commission on mental health (Lunau, 2012).

Stress and Anxiety and Academic Performance

What impact do mental health issues have on students' academic performance? The National College Health Assessment (2013) asked students to identify factors affecting their academic performance within the last 12 months. Academic performance was defined as being affected if students "received a lower grade in the course; received an incomplete or dropped the course; or experienced a significant disruption in thesis, dissertation, research, or practicum work" (p. 5). The number one factor was stress followed by anxiety (see Figure 1).

As Dr. Lee put it, "If a brain is troubled, it doesn't learn" (Barron, 2014, p. 3). Studies of stress on the academic performance of university students have found that it can have a negative impact on academic success (Stoliker & Lafreniere, 2015; Andrews & Wilding, 2004; Lumley, Provenzano, & Harris, 2003; Klein & Boals, 2001; Misra, McKean, West, & Russo, 2000).

Wellness as a Campus-wide Responsibility

The report of the Queen's University Principal's Commission on Mental Health (2012) acknowledged the essential role the university has to play in supporting student wellness: "Good health - physical and mental - is an inextricable precondition for optimal academic and social success. …

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