Student Wellness Services prepared to test for COVID-19, majority of counselling held remotely

Staff discuss remote services, academic accommodations, and mental health during pandemic

SWS is encouraging students to book phone appointments with their clinic instead of in-person visits.
Journal File Photo

In a handful of changes to how Student Wellness Services (SWS) operates, the majority of counselling has become remote, and staff are prepared to test for COVID-19. 

“SWS services did see a drop in appointment requests when the pandemic was first announced and students started going back to their home cities,” Cynthia Gibney, executive director of SWS, wrote in a statement to The Journal. “Appointment levels are now more similar to what we would see during the May to August period.”

Students who call SWS with concerns about having COVID-19 symptoms will be directed to attend one of the public testing sites, primarily the community-based COVID-19 Assessment Centre at the Kingston Memorial Centre, as per KFL&A Public Health’s recommendations.

“If a student was in our clinic and it was determined they needed a test, we are prepared to test as well,” Gibney wrote.

SWS has made a number of changes to their operations to ensure the environment is safe for workers and patients, while remaining accessible to those who need the service. Though the clinic remains open, they are inviting students to book phone appointments instead of in-person visits.

“As many staff as possible are now working remotely talking with students by phone or secure videoconference,” Gibney wrote.

For students who require in-person visits to the clinic, new safety protocol will have them wash their hands and don a mask when they arrive at the facility. Staff are also wearing personal protective equipment and plexiglass has been installed at the reception desk.

The clinic has continued to offer some crisis or urgent counselling and “very limited” nursing and physician appointments for in-person visits, according to Gibney. These appointments are offered on a case-by-case premise, based on an initial phone conversation with the patient.

All other services, including urgent and non-urgent counselling, medical, and nursing services, and Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS) advisor appointments are being conducted remotely.

“Each student request is assessed via phone first and that assessment will determine the type of appointment the student requires,” Gibney explained.

According to Gibney, there are still many appointments available in all areas of SWS. Students in need should call to book an appointment for Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS), the medical clinic, or counselling services. For general inquiries, students can reach out over email.

Virtual healthy lifestyle appointments are also available for students who want help changing or starting health habits, and they can be booked by email or using the online form.

“Protection of one’s mental health is always important,” Gibney wrote. “During a regular exam period, students’ mental health is taxed because of the pressures that go with exams.  This exam period is like no other, given that, on top of exams stress, students may be worried about getting sick or someone they love getting sick.”

QSAS is easing their documentation requirements for students seeking academic accommodations and support for reasons of a disability or health condition during this exam period. They will now accept any documentation students currently have, or none if they are unable to attain the necessary documents, depending on individual needs and circumstances.

According to Gibney, students can protect their mental health by continuing a daily routine of mental health promotion with healthy eating, regular exercise, and physically distancing but socially connecting with others.

She added that self-compassion and reaching out to others for support, when needed, is also important. 

“Mental health supports come in all forms, from best friends to supportive relatives to professional therapists,” Gibney wrote. “The SWS website has many suggestions for supports during this critical time, and if a student thinks they want professional assistance, they can call SWS for a [remote] appointment.”

SWS is also facilitating a “Taking Anxiety out of Exams” course through Therapy Assistance Online (TAO). TAO is a free mental health resource, complete with self-directed treatment pathways, a COVID-19 resource, and an extensive library of guided mindfulness meditations.

Regarding the importance of mental health, SWS Director of Counselling Services Dr. Rina Gupta pointed to increased anxiety as a specific health factor to monitor during the pandemic.

She explained that the neuroscience behind anxiety shows people are less effective at processing, retaining and outputting information when anxiety levels are increased.

“Sleep also becomes impacted when we are very stressed or anxious, especially when the stress is chronic and ongoing, like during a pandemic,” Gupta wrote in a statement to The Journal. “This is important because sleep is also tied to learning and writing exams successfully.”

Other factors that impact one’s mental health, according to Gupta, include a loss of control, certainty and security, lack of physical connections and privacy, and a fear of loss and sickness.

She suggested trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule, incorporating movement and social connection into a daily routine, and studying in small blocks with plenty of breaks.

“Take walks, have small exercise routines, stretch—there are lots of free resources [on Youtube] in addition to those offered by the ARC,” Gupta wrote. “Be honest about how you are doing when others check in on you, [b]e patient and kind to yourself right now. It truly is a challenging time.”

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