Canada: increased mental health funded needed following overdose deaths

Published 27/02/2023

Universities Canada has expressed concern over news that international students are dying of overdoses in British Columbia and has called for funding to provide improvements to mental health care on campus for students.

The comments come after local faith leaders and community workers said Punjabi international students in Surrey are dying at high rates from drug overdose.

Press Progress spoke with Giani Narinder Singh of the Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran in Surrey, who claimed the Gurdwara has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars helping return the bodies of students back home to India to their families.

Singh explained that many students are unaware of the toxic drug supply and that substances like fentanyl may be found in drugs they may be using.

Toxic-drug supply claimed nearly 2,300 lives in 2022 according to the BC Coroners Service. The number of deaths being investigated by the BC Coroners Service in 2022 is the second-largest total ever in a calendar year, and only 34 fewer than the 2,306 deaths reported to the agency in 2021.

And toxic drugs were responsible for an average of 189 deaths per month in 2022, or 6.2 lost lives each and every day. The final number for 2022 will almost certainly increase as investigations are completed and final causes of death are established.

“Universities Canada and its members are deeply saddened and concerned by the news of deaths by overdose in B.C. We encourage students to reach out to their universities and avail themselves of the resources available on campus,” Graham Barber, assistant director, international relations for Universities Canada, told The PIE News.

“Universities are committed to working with students, government, and the community to ensure that our campuses are safe environments, and that students have access to effective support.

“Direct funding is needed urgently to provide essential improvements to mental health care on campus for students. Canadian universities have been urging the federal government to follow through on their election commitment in 2021 to establish a student mental health fund of $500 million over four years.”

Currently, B.C. does not currently collect data based on race or ethnicity related to toxic drug death. However, the province’s government said it knows how important it is to collect intersectional demographic data.

“The health and welfare of all students in the province is a top priority for government, especially as the toxic drug crisis continues,” a spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions told The PIE News.

“B.C. is one of the most popular destinations for international students in Canada, hosting 22% of all international students on study permits in the country. The number of international students studying in B.C. with a study permit increased from approximately 100,000 in 2013 to more than 184,000 in 2021.

“Language should never be a barrier to getting help. That’s why government is providing more culturally competent and language-specific services, a key pillar of A Pathway to Hope – the province’s roadmap to improving mental health and addictions care in B.C. by improving access to and quality of care.”

The spokesperson said that across the province, psychiatrists, counsellors and psychologists offer mental health and substance use support in many languages to meet the diverse needs of people in their communities.

“Whenever possible, regional health authorities connect language-specific service providers with people who may have language barriers. The province also works with numerous community partners to deliver services in multiple languages.”

In 2022, community leaders in Brampton, Ontario, also warned of suicides among the Indian student population citing mental health issues and loneliness as problems some students face. Previously, stakeholders have also said that visa delays have risked the mental health of international students.

Universities Canada said that in addition to resources on campus, students have access to the government’s Here2Talk program, which provides free mental health counselling and referral 24/7 by app, phone or online chat for post-secondary students, including international students.

Support in languages other than English and French may be available upon request.

“The program is free to students registered in a B.C. post-secondary institution and provides province-wide, confidential, mental health support services and is accessible to both part-time and full-time domestic, Indigenous and international students at both the undergraduate and graduate level,” Barber added.

Since April 2020 when the program launched, Here2Talk has supported 6583 unique students from 176 institutions.

Here2Talk services have been accessed more than 23,600 times and counsellors have provided more than 13,696 mental health interventions in that time and more than 14,000 hours of clinical care.

If you need support, help is available.

Lifeline: 131 114
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

New Zealand
Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Samaritans: 116 123

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988

TalkSuicide: 1 833 456 4566

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