What’s happening with STU’s mental health fee?

Students at St. Thomas University have mixed feelings about the university’s new mental health fee, a year after 71 per cent of students who voted in the referendum, voted in favour of it.

The referendum resulted in a $33.91 fee added to full-time students’ accounts in September. Part-time students pay $3.30 for each three credit course.

Brianna Workman, St. Thomas University Students’ Union president, said government and corporate funding would match “student donations,” which was the incentive in choosing a higher fee.

Workman said the fee is considered a donation because the fees are given to the university’s capital campaign, which is then allocated to mental health funding.

“There has been a lot of conversations about other corporations and organizations being able to match what students put in, so there was a little bit of, if we give a bit more we’ll probably get more in return, because other organizations had said they would match a student donation,” said Workman.

STUSU doesn’t see the money collected from this fee, but it does allocate $1,750 of its own funds to mental health.

The funds collected from the mental health fee goes toward services like the self-care series. The series began in 2016, before STU introduced the fee, but since receiving more money, events have been added including dog therapy, yoga sessions and movie nights.

Wasiimah Joomun (left) and Brianna Workman (right) are both on the Mental Health Advisory Committee. (Mary Gannon/AQ)

Kelly Humber-Kelly, the mental health coordinator and counsellor at STU, said the new programs aim at increasing comfort on campus by helping students with social and academic success.

These programs include a peer support centre that’s staffed with volunteers Monday through Friday, retreats targeted toward groups in need and mental health training and workshops. The Mental Health Advisory Committee advises the university about what the money should be spent on regarding mental health services and resources on campus. The committee hopes the new services will lower the number of people going to counselling, leaving shorter lines for those in desperate need.

Although it hasn’t been determined what the funding will go to specifically, the committee is planning on developing an action plan outlining their goals.

Laura Wade, a second-year student, believes the conversation around mental health on campus is improving, but it’s important students become aware of the services offered.

“Promotion is a big thing so people know where to go if they need help,” said Wade.

Wade said the constant flow of assignments and new surroundings can be overwhelming, which is why she believes mental health support and services should be a priority.

Taylor Smith, a second-year student, doesn’t believe everyone should be forced to pay it. (Mary Gannon/AQ)

“I’m always excited for dog therapy and I think it just gets people out, just gets them to take a break from their routine and just focus on themselves instead of work, or a job, or anything. I think it is a valuable asset,” said Wade.

Taylor Smith, a second-year student, thinks the awareness the fee brings is good, but she doesn’t believe everyone should be forced to pay it.

“I think that it should be waived like the dental and health because for me I have other resources that I could and will go to if I need mental health support. It should be like the health and dental plan where you can opt out,” said Smith.

Wasiimah Joomun, STUSU vice-president student life, views not paying the fee as promoting mental health stigma. Joomun said the fee goes toward preventive and proactive measures to try and shorten the wait time for students seeking crisis intervention and counselling.

“Mental health is present in anyone regardless of who you are. It’s just how you take care of it, how you cope with it. I feel like opting out of this means you don’t really share the opinion that mental health is important and it kind of feeds into the stigma around mental health.”

With files from Haley Stairs 

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