Dealing with depression

When counselling isn’t enough, some students look for alternative ways to cope

Students suffering from depression can be referred to physicians for antidepressants.
Students suffering from depression can be referred to physicians for antidepressants.

Heather knew her depression was beyond the point of psychiatry and simple discussion when she felt like she was burdening her friends, whom she had turned to many times for support.

The Sci ’09 student, who requested her last name be withheld, was prescribed the anti-depressant medication Effexor XR by a physician at HCDS this past September. She has been on the medication for just over a month.

“I’ve always been unhappy,” she said. “I know it’s a depressing thought, but it’s an uplifting thought to have something to deal with it.”

After one half-hour session with a counsellor, Heather was referred to a physician who gave her a prescription for anti-depressants.

“It sounds pretty bad, but I know myself well,” she said. “I knew there was something wrong. I went [to HCDS] in order to get medication.”

Although she admits that her decision to take anti-depressants was an experiment, Heather doesn’t predict going off of them anytime soon. Meanwhile, she continues to see a physician and a counsellor regularly.

Dr. Mike Condra has been the director of Health, Counselling and Disability Services for the past 15 years. As a clinical psychologist, he believes counselling is beneficial for those adjusting to the pressures of the university lifestyle.

“The demands on your time are huge and this can create vulnerability to your mental health,” Condra said. “It’s probably not life threatening, but at the time it’s important to seek help.”

Queen’s counselling services provide support for students dealing with mental health issues. The service, funded entirely by the University, is free for all students. It’s the only department at HCDS that is funded entirely by the school.

“Counsellors exist to give all students access to assistance for any personal difficulty,” Condra said.

The service sees students for a variety of different issues ranging from destructive eating habits to mid-term stress.

Although students are encouraged to book appointments in advance, not all circumstances are foreseeable. In these cases, students are directed to intake co-ordinator, Cathy Touzel. Students are seen on a first-come, first-serve basis, depending on the severity of their situation. Touzel assesses students to determine whether their situation is acute or urgent and suggests the best course of action.

With acute cases, such as a bad break-up, Condra said students are usually fine after one or two sessions with a counsellor.

“Up to that point, they had good mental health,” he said.

It’s important for students to see counsellors, if something is bothering them, regardless of how insignificant they may seem, Condra said. These issues can affect students’ academic performance and lead to more urgent mental health problems.

Students in need of urgent care see counsellors more often, and may be referred to a mental health professional in the city. Counsellors may also refer students to a physician to determine if they should be prescribed anti-depressant medication, which the counsellors can’t provide.

“A lot of students who come to the counselling service are already on [anti-depressant medication],” Condra said.

Condra said referrals to physicians are common, and usually happen more than two times a week. However, he has no way of knowing how many students are currently taking anti-depressants because not all students referred to a physician choose to go on medication or are diagnosed with depression. Some of the physical symptoms of depression can be confused with other illnesses, such as anemia, he said.

“No one, physicians or counsellors, wants to rush into it, and some students decide not to,” he said, adding that medication can provide respite in some cases.

“Being depressed is a very unpleasant state. I’ve never met anybody who wants this prolonged when in this state. Medication can be extremely helpful.”

Students are encouraged to continue seeing a counsellor while taking medication. Condra said the University’s counselling service is limited, however. The department’s goal to provide every student with the help he or she needs is unrealistic, he said.

“It’s not going to work because there are not enough resources.”

There are 18 counsellors in the department. On an average day there are 10 to 12 counsellors seeing students at the centre. Counsellors typically see five students per day.

“Most people come here four to five times a year, but for some students that’s not enough,” Condra said. “Counsellors are allowed to practice discretion when seeing someone. They can see them more if they think they need to.”

There are alternatives to the Queen’s counselling service, but they’re not cheap.

“The cost can be high,” Condra said. “It can be anywhere from $80 to $160 per session.”

In most cases, OHIP doesn’t cover seeing a mental health practitioner.

Condra said the mental health system is unfair.

“There is no provincially-funded service like OHIP for it,” Condra said. “It’s very unfortunate that people who could benefit have to pay for it.”

A less expensive alternative exists on campus. The Psychology Clinic at Queen’s, located at 184 Barrie Street, charges patients on a sliding scale, depending on their income.

“Because our rates are about half of others, it’s a lot less expensive,” said Clinic Director Kevin Parker, a clinical psychologist who started working at the clinic in September.

The clinic’s aim is not only to treat and assess patients—who consist mainly of children with learning disabilities—but also to train graduate students to become licensed clinical psychologists.

“The central goal is training new clinical psychologists,” said Parker, who supervises all of the clinic’s students.

Parker said he believes mental health coverage needs to be improved.

“Mental health is well and truly established as a two-tier health system,” Parker said. “People who have enough funds have much better access to treatments.”

Parker recommends students visit HCDS before coming to the clinic.

“Often in one or two sessions a lot can change,” he said. “I don’t want to take people’s money if I don’t have to.”

Parker said there’s a negative stigma attached to people dealing with mental health problems.

“People who are depressed are often considered to be lesser people, or not as valuable. There isn’t a strong constituency for people with mental health issues.”

Healthy resources

Kingston General Hospital Emergency (24-hour line)
General Info: 613-548-3232

Physical Therapy Clinic
For treatment of sports injuries, physical therapy and more.
Louise D. Acton Building
31 George St.

Queen’s First Aid
613-533-6000 ext. 75373
Emergency Report Centre:
613-533-6111 (or any Blue Light Emergency Phone)

Telehealth Ontario


Better Bodies
Fitness and nutrition store, carrying supplements, protein, creatine, vitamins, training aids
117 Division St.

GoodLife Fitness Club
64 Barrack St.

Canada’s Food Guide

Hot Yoga
Rates for drop-in, by-the-class, and unlimited classes available on website
80 Princess St.

Leave the Pack Behind, Kingston Chapter
Help for those who wish to quit smoking
613-533-6000 ext. 75328

Queen’s Women’s Centre
Library, information and
referral services
Second floor of the Grey House 51 Bader Lane

Sexual Health Resource Centre
Confidential, non-judgmental space for sexual health information
and products
Room 223 of the JDUC
Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to
9:30 p.m.
Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Compiled by Sarah Cuthbertson and Angela Hickman

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