This has led the Youngs to make a gift to the University of Saskatchewan in the area of mental health: a $135,000 donation to create Grace's Fund in Support of Student Mental Health in memory of Herb and Grace Young. Ralph Young says, "Because of my mother, it was a way to honour my parents and also provide some support for an area that is challenging to attract funding. Mental health is not glamorous, but it affects a big percentage of our population. We hope it will be of benefit."
He adds, "It's a small way of saying thank you to the University of Saskatchewan. One of the things I've always believed in is that it's important to give back, even if it's modest. As alumni, we've been given this great privilege of having a university educationâ¦if you think about the gift that we've been given, and the value of your education, it's part of our responsibility as university graduates to give back. We've had that opportunity that not everybody gets."
The Youngs' donation is the largest-ever gift from private individuals to the university's Student Health and Counselling Services. Terrie Fitzpatrick, Manger of Student Counselling Services, says "It's so rare to have a donation of this impactâthe only other gift of this magnitude is the building itself." The new fund will help Student Health and Counselling Services create a campus-wide vision for mental health at the U of S, which will include suicide and stress campaigns, mental health plans that could be tailored for colleges with unique needs, and training and resources to help faculty, staff, and students identify and help students in distress.
Fitzpatrick says that since the counselling unit moved into its new premises with Student Health in Place Riel, they have experienced a dramatic increase in the number of students accessing their services: 37% over last year. The centre is now more open and visible, but student stress is also rising across Canada. "The stakes are a lot higher, tuition is higher, the pressure to do wellâ¦anyone can struggle with the transition to academic life," says Fitzpatrick. "How do we, as a university, deal with these issues and make sure students stay on track? This is why this gift is so important. It will engage the campus community to talk not just about mental health and illness, but about mental wellness and well-being."
Ralph Young agrees about the importance for university-wide mental health plans, pointing out that many mental health issues appear in people's late teens and early adulthood. "Students are going through big changes in their lives," he says. "Many people are able to handle the stress and pressure and go on to great things, but others can fall through the cracks." If they're not helped in time, this can have a huge impact on their future quality of life and ability to contribute to society.
Fitzpatrick says that there is still a stigma about talking about mental health, but she sees positive signs: "Students are becoming more savvy about accessing services, and the conversation is opening up." After visiting the new Student Health and Counselling premises recently, Young says, "You get the sense that young people are getting the help that they need. The people here are passionate and committed, they've got some space and resources, and they can use these funds to build it even further."
Written by Susan Pederson