Online mental health resources aren’t the sole solution to student needs

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Mental health apps are a great resource for university students to supplement their mental health care journey, but they’re not a stand-in for on-campus professional help.
 
With an ever-increasing demand for mental health services at postsecondary schools, institutions have begun to turn to mental healthcare apps to make up for a shortage of available resources. 
 
At Queen’s, students face several barriers in accessing the Student Wellness Services’ counseling, including a shortage of same-day appointments, long wait times, and an insufficient number of counselors.
 
Last September, the AMS and SGPS introduced the Empower Me program, a counselling service that connects users with counsellors, consultants, and life coaches, both digitally and in person, available 24/7.
 
The app's online counselling function, while a valuable resource for students struggling to navigate Queen’s counselling services, shouldn’t be viewed by administration as a solution to the accessibility of the school’s mental health services. The app bridges the gap between the times students need assistance outside of available counselling resources, but it doesn’t address the barriers preventing students from accessing nearby mental health services face-to-face.
 
Digital counselling can provide struggling students with a stepping stone to become familiar with mental health support, or to discover alternative strategies to manage their mental health. But they’re most beneficial when they’re paired with a strong foundation—one typically built on strong in-person resources.
 
Mental health apps also offer a different, and often lesser, realm of confidentiality than in-person counselling. Apps like Better Help share a portion of user information to third-party advertisers.
 
Empower Me's online help service is a good interim option for Queen’s students, should they choose to use it—but it shouldn’t be their only option. It’s unlikely that mental health care apps will be able to provide students with the substantive aid they require in the face of ongoing mental health struggles. 
 
Offering students the option to connect with a mental health care professional at any time through an app or a website isn’t the same as addressing students’ concerns about mental health services head-on. Universities must devote resources towards making their counselling services more accessible. At Queen’s, this needs to start with hiring more counsellors. 
 
Mental health apps stand to benefit students most when they’re connected to a larger body of mental health services, which makes them more effective and impactful. At Queen’s, the University simply isn’t equipped to provide every student struggling with their mental health the appropriate resources in our Student Wellness Services. 
 
Accessible mental health services start with reliable on-campus services, not with outsourcing mental health care to digital apps.
 
 

Corrections

This editorial has been updated to reflect the full scope of Empower Me's services.

The Journal regrets the error.

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