Counsellors, students and the growing anxiety

With the documented rates of mental health concerns in our students on the rise over the last 5 years, Ontario's college counsellors are increasingly overwhelmed. The Ontario University and College Health Association published a study (1) that look at mental health and wellness Ontario by studying 25,000 college and university students in 2016, the study identified an increase in anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts among post secondary students.(2)

This was subsequently confirmed by the 2017 study by Ryerson Journalism Program and The Star. Academic accommodations due to mental health issues is rising, University of Toronto has documented a 143% since 2009.  "At Sheridan College, there have been more than 100 high-risk assessments that involved a call to emergency medical services (EMS) from April 2016 to this February [2017]."(3)

One of the major factors limiting student care and support are the increasing wait times due to growing demand. Often, by the time a student is ready to reach out for help, they are already experiencing a crisis. Meanwhile, the ratio of student enrollments to counsellors at each college vary widely putting enormous responsibility on a select few people. Based on current figures collected from the Ontario College Counsellors website, it is possible to generate an average number of students per counsellor at each institution.

Region by region we can see the averages of students per counsellor in the figure below. Eastern Ontario averaging at approximately one Counsellor per 2300 Students, while Central Ontario averages at one counsellor per 4000 students(4).   However based on data from the Canadian Mental Health association (5), in any given year 1 in 5 people experience a mental health related problem. Based on the figures below, that would be 460 students per counsellor in the Eastern region as compared to 800 students per counsellor in the central region. Not enough to provide the support needed to engage these students in need.

Jim Lee’s 2012 Report “An Analysis of Counselling Services in Ontario Colleges” was designed to provide a comprehensive description of college counsellor characteristics and reported on a variety of factors including how counselling is delivered in Ontario Colleges.  One of the first reports of its’ kind, Jim Lee’s earned himself a Lifetime Achievement Award from the OCC/OCCO Ontario College Counsellors for this and other contributions he gave to college counsellors and their profession.  In the report, Lee’s states

“System growth has outpaced the increase in counselling complement by six times from 2007 to 2012. Full-time enrolment in the college system grew from 167,000 to 210, 600, a 26% increase while the number of counsellors increased from 146 to 152.7, an increase of 4.6%. Growth was highest in the mid-sized colleges where the number of counsellors actually decreased by 7%, and the counsellor-student ratio increased at twice the rate of the provincial average (39% and 20.5% respectively)”(6). Given this research is almost 5 years old, the issues of the system growth have been continuing with little resolve.   

It is important to remember that counsellors are a part of the College Faculty Union and the issue of maintaining a manageable ratio of students per counsellor is a part of this strike.

"Mental health and wellness is integral to learning. The college is now moving to outsource this work, giving less accessibility to adequate and meaningful mental health coverage for students."


If you wish to read more on the status of mental health and wellness in Post-secondary in Ontario:

(1)  ACHA National College Health Assessment

(2)  Ontario campus counsellors say they're drowning in mental health needs

(3)  Demand for youth mental health services is exploding

(4) Ontario College Counsellors Webpage 

(5)  Fast facts about Mental Illness

(6)  An Analysis of Counselling Services in Ontario