'A combination of disappointment and dread': Students react to $500 decrease of AMS mental health coverage

Students are criticizing the $500 decrease in mental health coverage from the AMS.

In January 2022, the AMS raised its mental health coverage to $1,500. This coverage returned to $1,000 on September 1.

Students who spoke to The Ubyssey said the increase helped them access mental health support and reduced the financial burden of seeing a therapist. They also said they were frustrated by the lack of student consultation on this issue, that AMS President Eshana Bhangu ran on a platform to increase mental health funding — which included a commitment to permanently raise coverage to at least $1,250 — and that they only learned about this end of coverage through Reddit and reporting by The Ubyssey.

Bhangu did not respond to multiple requests for comment by publishing time.

Katja Nell, a fourth-year biophysics student, said being upset didn’t fully encompass how she felt.

“It was more just a combination of disappointment and dread almost,” she said.

Nell said she won’t be able to see her therapist once a month with the coverage change — each session costs $157.50 — but she doesn’t want to find someone new because of the existing relationship she has with her therapist. Ending therapy isn’t an option for Nell, either.

“You can’t just have therapy or just have medication. You need all of these things working together to keep things going. It’s an integral part of my treatment, and losing out on therapy would take a massive block out of what’s keeping me healthy.”

Fourth-year electrical engineering student Mihir Bhatia said he was “shocked” when he found out about the funding reduction through Reddit.

“We never received an email or any communication from [the AMS],” Bhatia said. Bhatia has already used $1,300 since accessing services in April.

Arts student Sean Herring also said the extra $500 would have allowed them to continue seeing their counselor — who charges $120 per session. Currently, Herring sees a counselor every two weeks, meaning they pay close to $1,000 in counseling within a term.

Herring said they will have to reexamine their frequency of visits to their counselor and explore sliding scale payment options. They are also concerned about how quickly the change was made.

“Isn’t that a bit hasty?," they said. [They’re] making a decision already after the policy change only happened in January. It seems a bit short-sighted.”

Anne Curll, a third-year sociology student, also thought the end of the $1,500 coverage came too soon.

“My ability to use up that money was hindered by my ability to actually [find the right counselor]. One year of additional funding is definitely not enough time to know whether students are going to be able to use it or need it,” said Curll.

As reported by The Ubyssey, Bhangu said the AMS chose to reduce funding because only 1.37 per cent of students used all of their $1,000 psychology coverage for the 2020/21 policy year. She also cited "an increased cost for students" as the reason for the $500 decrease.

Students currently pay $264.63 in fees for the AMS/GSS Health and Dental Plan.

Curll and Samridh Batra, a fourth-year student at UBC Sauder, want to see more granular data about students’ use of mental health funding.

“My first question as a student would be, ‘as compared to what?’ From my experience, students don't tend to use services a high amount," Curll said. "So how many were using it at $1,000? How many are using multiple services? Because to me, that's not a convincing statistic saying that we don't need it because [1.37 per cent] is quite a few [students].”

Batra said that, through his work with UBC Mental Health Network, many students do not know when their coverage period begins and ends, which could impact how they use their benefits.

"We definitely saw a misunderstanding about the calendar year of benefits and had to educate a lot of people about the renewal dates.”