Student health services grow

Government and University funding for HCDS expands the services students receive on campus

Starting this fall, 600 additional hours of counselling per year will be made available to students. Approximately $225,000 of university funding is being funneled into Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS) to hire three new counselors and provide mental health training on campus.

One of the incoming counsellors will become the associate director of HCDS and another will focus specifically on mental health within residences.

Stephanie Phillips, ArtSci ’12, said currently there aren’t enough counsellors to meet student needs.

“I don’t think the counselling system is prepared enough,” she said. “[It’s] completely unacceptable.”

Last year, Phillips began a campaign to raise money for mental health services at Queen’s after she heard some students were waiting four to six weeks to see a counsellor.

“If it’s something you’ve been suffering with for months, when somebody says on the other line ‘I’m sorry, we can’t fit you in,’ it’s the wrong reaction,” she said. “It doesn’t encourage you to call back.”

Initially Phillips met with the administration to see if an additional student fee could be set up to cover the cost of hiring more counselors. Undergraduate students pay a mandatory fee of $54.91, which goes directly to HCDS each year.

“In the end I decided to withdraw the campaign. It’s not the students’ job to support [their peers] in a monetary capacity,” she said.

Director of HCDS Mike Condra said it can take several weeks for students to receive a counselling appointment during busy times.

“It’s really important that we have more resources on deck to meet the needs of students in distress and difficulty,” he said. “Both terms this year were extraordinarily difficult and highlighted the concerns about mental health.”

Since last summer, Queen’s has mourned the loss of seven students.

“I think we all recognize that the demands on the counselling service have been very high,” Condra said. “This is [students’] health we’re talking about. We all have our right to privacy and dignity.”

Throughout the summer and continuing into the school year, Condra will be offering optional 45-minute sessions to faculty and campus groups. The sessions will focus on how to recognize the signs of students in distress.

HCDS currently employs 17 counsellors. Approximately 10 per cent of students will see one of them at least once during their time at Queen’s. Condra said this percentage hasn’t significantly altered over the years.

Recently, HCDS also received provincial funding for a mental health nurse that will start in September. Plans are also in the works to hire a second part-time psychiatrist.

Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Student Affairs John Pierce applied for university funding to expand the resources for mental health services.

“It’s really all part of a general concern for the health and wellness of students,” Pierce said, adding that the University has received offers of professional support from staff at the Kingston General Hospital and the Canadian Association for Mental Health.

Pierce said Queen’s is using a shared financing approach to fund the new resources.

“Residences are helping support the position that finances [the counselor] in residences,” Pierce said. “Student affairs is helping fund the counsellor and the central administration is supporting the associate director position,” Pierce said.

The addition of the associate director position will free up time for counselors, Pierce said.

To speak with a counsellor from Health, Counseling and Disability Services, contact 613-533-6000 ext. 78264.

Early intervention

Director of Queen’s Health, Counselling and Disability Services, Mike Condra sometimes refers students to the HeadsUp program at Hotel Dieu Hospital.

The program offers early intervention and specializes in psychosis treatment. Started in 2001 the program now has 152 active clients between 14 and 35 years old.

HeadsUp Occupational Therapist Jennifer Jackson said early signs of psychosis include behavioural changes, hallucination, isolation and withdrawal from surroundings.

“Our goal is the prevention of long-term illness,” Jackson said. “We help [patients] get on with their lives.”

Jackson said most patients stay in the program for three years with medication usually forming part of their treatment.

It typically takes three days to meet with a caseworker and two weeks to meet with a psychiatrist. “We have the resources we need to be able to help people going through this,” Jackson said, adding that the Kingston branch has 15 staff members.

Though the program is based in Kingston, HeadsUp also has offices in Belleville, Napanee, Smith Falls and Brockville.

“Ten years ago Canada realized the importance of catching mental health issues early,” Jackson said. “Ontario has the most early intervention programs anywhere in Canada.”

Psychosis affects three per cent of the Canadian population and anyone can get it, Jackson said.

“The rate is higher than type 1 diabetes but it’s just not talked about that often,” she said.

Because psychosis is often stress-induced, many of the patients in the program are high school or post-secondary students.

“We see the onset of mental illness in early adulthood. Because of that we [treat] a fair number of Queen’s and St. Lawrence students,” Jackson said.

To speak with someone from HeadsUp about seeing a support worker, call 613-544-3400 ext. 2550.

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