Mental health support wait times are a crisis on campus

In the aftermath of COVID-19, students need direct, accessible mental healthcare

Beth believes universities need to help minimize wait times for mental healthcare.

This article discusses mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

Wait times to get help for mental health at Queen’s and university campuses across the country are simply unacceptable.

The past 18 months have been tough for all of us, to say the least. COVID-19 has posed threats to not only our physical health but  our mental health—partly from months on end of isolation. 

Most of us were stuck at home by ourselves or with a few family members for months with very minimal social exposure. 

At first, we joked about going crazy, so we cooked sourdough and banana bread and took up new hobbies. 

But after a while, the novelty wore off. 

We didn’t know when the world was going to open back up, and we didn’t know when the pandemic would end. We couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it wasn’t easy to ask for help. 

My mental health saw its worst days through the pandemic. While I told myself,  “you should feel grateful, so many others have it way worse than you. Doctors are dealing with bigger problems than you,” this only further stigmatized mental health struggles in my life.

Worse, if you overcome this stigma, seeking help from a mental health professional is made more difficult when students must wait weeks for an initial appointment.

A 2019 report found that, on average, university students in Canada must wait a month to receive mental health support—in some cases, this wait time can be up to three months long. Once you get in, a therapist may not be available to see you on a weekly or biweekly basis because they need to get as many students in as  they can.

The private sector—the alternative to accessing mental health supports on campus—is no better. Hour-long appointments run as high as $120 and therapists readily available to students are difficult to find. 

For students experiencing mental health crises, this wait time can lead to greater devastation.

While I was fortunate enough to be financially supported by my family when seeking out mental health support, the reality is most Queen’s students can’t afford $120 per hour on a weekly basis for mental healthcare.

Although mental healthcare is important, the inconvenient truth is that it’s a choice we simply can’t afford to make.

With more clubs and organizations appearing on university campuses, like and Bloom, students are becoming more educated on how to find mental health resources at their school, but not much is being done to reduce wait times and make those resources more accessible.

A possible solution to this problem could be for the Queen’s First Aid Team to set up a mental health booth to educate students on what to do when struggling with mental health.

A drop-in volunteer clinic to offer mental health “first aid” to students, where either local therapists donate a limited amount of time or offer student volunteers a free mental health "first aid" course so they can help triage students needing help, could also work. 

This local clinic could also offer free phone service for students to call no matter if they are feeling sad or suicidal. If there’s serious concern for alarm, they can get the student immediate help or be the listening ear they may desperately need.

Triaging the most urgent cases could also help minimize the risk of suicide. 

If the best treatment option is regular therapy sessions, perhaps Queen’s could offer a stipend for students who can’t afford private sector therapy themselves.

Without having mental health services readily available for students at Queen’s with minimal wait times, more students will wait to speak up for help or won’t ask for help at all. This is concerning in the face of an increase in suicides.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in Canada and with long wait times, the rates are rising in postsecondary student bodies across the country. 

You can’t tell someone to wait a month to talk to someone when they feel the unbearable pain of a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts. 

It’s important to decrease stigma around mental illness, but we must also call on our local, provincial, and federal government officials to get more professionals into our university towns. 

With mental illness rates on the rise due to COVID-19, students are going to hesitate asking for help knowing they won’t be able to speak to someone in the near future.

This is a personal issue. This is about our friends, siblings, children, and ourselves. This is directly affecting the ones we love and has already taken a toll on our mental health and suicide rates—and will continue to do so before a significant change is made. 

This is unacceptable. It's literally life or death.

Beth Dennis is a second-year Health Sciences student.

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