Problematic substance use can become a major difficulty at any stage in life, especially one as tumultuous as being a student, but is the University of Saskatchewan doing enough to help?
Student Counselling Services at the U of S does not provide resources on their website for those struggling with substances. Instead, students are referred off-campus to seek assistance. Considering we have a pub on campus, are facing national marijuana legalization and are in the midst an opioid and fentanyl crisis in Western Canada, I find the lack of resources on campus ironic.
In 2016, a major health assessment was conducted on campus. Approximately 28 per cent of students reported that their academic performance suffered due to anxiety, and 56 per cent felt completely overwhelmed by anxiety at some point throughout the year. Yet, only 16 per cent of students sought any form of professional help for anxiety.
Anxiety disorders correlate with addictions, as substances are commonly used to self-medicate. Many don’t realize that even mild alcohol withdrawal can lead to worsened anxiety, which develops into a vicious cycle wherein each disorder exacerbates or maintains the other. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse published a nationwide report stating that more than 50 per cent of individuals who seek addictions help also suffer from mental illness.
Considering the statistics about on-campus anxiety, it seems imperative to simultaneously assess and treat both mental health and substance use. The CCSA openly admits that the current Canadian mental-health system is “fragmented and compartmentalized,” and many professionals are not wellequipped to treat mental health and substance use concurrently. This results not only in difficulty finding services, but also in poor treatment outcomes or relapse.
Not understanding why students must participate in a run-around to seek mental-health and addictions assistance at separate health agencies, I met with Jocelyn Orb, manager of Student Health Services, and Rita Hanoski, campus health education co-ordinator.
I explained that I know numerous students who have misused stimulants to help increase exam performance or who actively use alcohol to self-medicate for anxiety.
Orb describes the situation on campus.
“Students are provided a diagnosis code, and under substance abuse, which is not used for alcohol, there [were] only six students [reported in 2016]. This doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but it is not being disclosed. We know there are drug users on campus. There are active IV drug users on campus, crystal meth users on campus, but none of them want treatment,” Orb said.
Hanoski elaborates on the partnership between the U of S and the Saskatoon Health Region.
“If the health region is happy to see students with addictions in a really timely fashion, we are going to make use of that,” Hanoski said.
Both Orb and Hanoski touched on the importance of health promotion based on harm reduction, a model of care wherein no judgement occurs when patients choose to use, instead focusing on responsible and informed use.
When I asked if it was intentional that there were no resources on the Student Counselling website, Hanoski explained that the service is unable to address all of the problems students deal with and that these resources have yet to become a priority.
I also asked if there were plans to provide more resources in the future. Orb explains that students need to be vocal about their needs, or SCS will continue to refer off-site.
“If [more resources are] something that students want, then they need to make it known. They need to disclose, be open and honest, and we will make it happen,” Orb said.
While Student Health Services has a naloxone kit available for emergency fentanyl overdoses, I do not foresee an addictions counsellor coming to campus in the future. If students feel it is important to have access to an addictions specialist on campus, they should make their opinions known at Student Health.
In the meantime, if you feel you may be suffering from problems with alcohol, substance misuse or addictions, contact Community Addiction Services. This service functions through the Mental Health and Addictions Services branch of the SHR. Anyone can be referred to MHAS through Centralized Intake at 306-655-7777.