Students say yes to STUSU mental health fee

More than 71 per cent of students who voted on the St. Thomas University Students’ Union mental health fee referendum said yes.

Matt LeBlanc, STUSU’s vice-president administration, said 36.5 per cent of students weighed in on the referendum. He said he’s happy students proved to be as passionate about the issue as his team was.

“I am filled with boundless pride to attend an institution with students as empathetic as St. Thomas’,” he told The Aquinian.

“I am thrilled with the voter turnout and I am humbled by the results.”

Students voted on March 28 and 29 on installing a new STUSU mental health fee starting next year. It would be one of four STUSU fees students pay each year, costing $33.91 for full-time students. Part-time students will pay $3.40 per three-credit hour course.

Starting as a $50,000 donation from STUSU to the university’s capital campaign, the successful referendum could see $300,000 go toward mental health services and programming for STU students over the next four years.

LeBlanc said he thinks students were inspired to vote because it’s an issue that affects everyone regardless of who they are.

The most recent National College Health Assessment the university participated in shows the struggle with mental health is above the national average for STU students.

In 2013, 78 per cent of STU students identified as being very lonely, 69 per cent felt hopeless and 51 per cent said they felt so depressed they were unable to function.

It also showed 18 per cent considered suicide and 2.7 per cent had attempted. The national average for self-harm sat at 6.6 per cent, while STU’s average was more than double at 13.4 per cent.

Nationally, 6.1 per cent of students said they had been diagnosed or treated for depression and anxiety. STU’s number was 13.4 per cent.

The university funds mental health services already, including counselling and a newly-opened peer support centre.

“It shows that STU students not only expect the minimum of their services, but demand the best that a university can offer,” LeBlanc said.

But even though students said yes, STUSU still has to vote on the transfer to the capital campaign. If council turns it down, the transfer will not go through and the mental health fee will not be installed.

LeBlanc said he is hoping council will vote on it at the April 12 STUSU meeting.

If all goes well, the incoming STUSU executives, specifically vice-president student life Wasiimah Joomun, will begin working alongside student services to allocate the money. LeBlanc said council voted last week to create a standing committee on the task to help her do so.

Official plans for the money will not be concrete until the new academic year, but LeBlanc said he expects part of the funds will help get students services’ new mental health framework off the ground.

“I think that this money will go to help actualize that and then from there the money can go elsewhere,” he said.

“I’m imagining that the money will first go to their planned [events] or initiatives that student services wanted to happen but didn’t have enough money to [make] happen, and from there, the sky’s the limit in terms of ideas.”

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