AMS plans not best medicine for HCDS

Peer counselling program will help, but may not reduce wait times, HCDS director says

The most efficient way the AMS can help Health, Counselling, and Disability Services decrease their wait times would be to help attract more physicians, said Mike Condra, HCDC director.

“It would be great if we had shorter wait times,” Condra said. “The wait times are determined by the number of physicians we have. There’s a physician shortage across the country.” Both teams of AMS executive candidates have devoted part of their campaign to health and wellness.

If Team CMM wins the election, they want to set up a partnership between the AMS and Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS) to establish a peer counselling program.

Mike Condra, HCDS director, said he was approached by Julia Mitchell, vice-president (university affairs) candidate for team CMM. “I have said that our department would be willing to work with them to provide the training of the volunteers,” he said. “We would certainly be interested.”

However, he added, the team’s ultimate goal of lessening demand and thus waiting times for professional counsellors at HCDS might not be accomplished because they would be targeting a different group of students.

“I think what they’re trying to accomplish is to ensure that students who might be thinking about counselling … might take that initial step and see a peer counsellor,” he said, adding that such a service would be useful for making contact with students who are unsure about seeing a professional counsellor.

Condra said some of the issues students face might make them more willing to see a peer counsellor rather than a professional, or vice-versa.

“There may be some issues in which it’s much easier to speak to a peer than a professional,” he said. “[But] some issues may be very, very personal. … It may be very difficult to open up to a peer on some very uncomfortable or painful topics.” Carol Harris, HCDS associate director, said the proposed peer counselling system would offer a different kind of service than the various peer mentorship programs already in place.

“The peer mentorship program is a program that is specifically designed to help students with disabilities who often have learning disabilities [by] hooking them up with someone who’s a good student,” she said.

“It’s not so much counselling as mentorship program for your academics.” HCDS also offers a similar peer mentorship program within the residences to help students with study skills.

Harris said the creation of a peer counselling service would not necessarily lessen the demand to see a counsellor through HCDS.

“Our counsellors are fully trained … so you couldn’t compare a peer counsellor to the counselling you’d get at a counselling service,” she said. “It might be helpful to have peer counsellors that you could go and talk to about issues in your life, but you’re going to get a different level of response.” In addition, Harris said a peer counselling program might lessen some of the demand on the current system, but it could also increase demand.

“What you’re probably going to find is someone goes and talks to the peer counsellor, and they’ll refer them to [HCDS].” If Team TPC wins the election, they want to lobby the University for shorter wait times, and decrease the number of exams students write in a 24-hour period from three to two.

Liz Craig, VP (university affairs) candidate for team TPC, said her team spoke with Condra’s secretary to get waiting-time statistics because Condra was unavailable at the time.

Craig added that her team has since tried to reach Condra via e-mail, but received no response. However, Condra said he hasn’t yet been approached by Team TPC.

Current wait times for a non-urgent situation are likely to be three weeks, Condra said.

“If it’s an urgent situation, we try to accommodate you on the same day. The individual can be seen by a nurse, and if there are no more physicians’ appointments, they will be directed to the emergency services or an after-hours clinic.” Kristin Konieczny, PhysEd ’07 and a don at Morris Hall, said health and wellness is an important aspect for the AMS teams to raise because it’s an issue that’s often ignored.

“You see the physical effects of, say … diabetes, but mental health is something people want to hide,” she said.

“I feel like we definitely need an emphasis on mental health and how to change behaviours we have.”

Micaela Coombs, ArtSci ’08, said she thinks health and wellness is an important issue but doesn’t think she would seek out peer counselling.

“I would be worried about confidentiality. If it was minor things, then maybe,” she said. “I would go [to a peer counsellor] for advice like for stress management but for more personal things like emotions, probably not.”

Coombs added that she’s not sure if too many students will take the time out to seek resources to improve or maintain health and wellness.

Peter Beshay, ArtSci ’08, said he would rather see a professional counsellor that a peer counsellor.

“If it’s run by students, [it’s] not that effective because it’s a sensitive issue,” he said. “I want to talk to someone who’s doing this full time.”

--With files from Florence Li and Gillian Wheatley

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