SU Wellness Centre has extended its hours and counselling services for students. // Photo by Jarrett Edmund.
Jarrett Edmund

Provincial mental health funding in jeopardy

By Fabian Mayer, February 23 2016 —

Uncertainty looms around the state of mental health funding for post-secondary institutions in Alberta. A $3-million grant for the province’s three biggest universities expires this August and it is currently unknown if the NDP government plans to renew this funding in their upcoming budget.

Both the Students’ Union and the university have lobbied the government to renew this funding. SU vice-president external Romy Garrido said the issue is one of their top priorities. 

“When we meet individually with MLAs throughout the year, it’s one of the first things we talk about,” Garrido said.

Garrido has heard from a few sources that it looks unlikely this funding will be renewed.

“It is a little bit demoralizing and discouraging when you hear that, in the economic times that we’re in, there isn’t a whole lot of funding going around,” Garrido said.

The Alberta government faces a considerable budget shortfall this year. Economists expect a deficit of at least $6-billion.

The funding was first put in place three years ago by the PC government. It allowed the SU Wellness Centre to hire additional counsellors and extend hours. According to Garrido, there may be staff cuts if the provincial funding is not renewed.

All three candidates for vice-president external in this year’s SU election have made renewing mental-health funding a central platform point.

Garrido said the SU hopes a decision on the matter will come sooner rather than later, but couldn’t provide a timeline.

“We’re hoping for the end of February, but given that it is government it could be next month — or who knows,” Garrido said.

The government recently released its mental health review headed by Liberal leader Dr. David Swann and NDP MLA Danielle Larivee.

The review included a recommendation to “create healthy and supportive post-secondary campus environments through health promotion, addiction and mental health campus services, and community partnerships.”  No funding  promises were mentioned.

Neither the ministry of health nor advanced education responded to a request for comment.

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