Mental health service wait times show signs of improvement, but concerns about delays persist

UBC continues to struggle with shortening long mental health service wait times for students.

Wait times for psychiatric services at UBC have been a major issue for years. But though an additional $2.5 million was added to the annual funding for mental health services in 2016, delays persist.

While UBC assures students that urgent cases are given attention as soon as possible, the usual wait is between two and three weeks before students can see a counsellor.

Dr. Heather Robertson, Executive Director of Student Health and Wellbeing said UBC is addressing students concerns by making support services more accessible.

“UBC continues its strong commitment to addressing and improving accessibility to healthcare supports for students,” said Robertson.

Quicker is better

The university has launched a number of new options to make finding immediate mental health support easier and faster.

Student Health Services (SHS) and counselling services recently extended their hours to include Saturdays, creating more availability for students with busy schedules to seek support.

Most notably, student wellness peer educators from the Wellness Centre are available to assist students with health and lifestyle concerns from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday.

UBC Counselling Services also offers drop-in appointments, although the school recommends a set appointment for more serious concerns. Appointments here are more readily available, with an average wait time of a few days.

Additionally, the Empower Me mental health hotline the school launched in partnership with the AMS last year is available 24/7 and provides immediate hotline life coaching and counselling aid.

Robertson said that most of these services support students quickly and that the average wait time — if there is one — is around five days.

“The university continually works to decrease wait times and offering accessible, timely care to students,” Dr. Robertson.

The wait continues

Even with these other resources available, the wait times continue to feel too long for students.

As of the time of publication, booking an appointment for psychological support from Student Health Services takes three weeks.

The exceptions are extreme circumstances — if a student is in immediate risk, they will be provided assistance much more promptly.

“We aim to connect students with the most appropriate resources and supports as quickly as possible,” Robertson said. “This can include referrals to both on campus and community resources.”

Robertson said that the complexity of some cases means they can take more time to process, but stressed that students in emergency situations would be able to access support as soon as possible.

But students are still frustrated by delays for appointments that may be personally pressing but don’t fit the description of ‘an emergency.’

Third-year student and teaching assistant Edward Le said he had an “exceptionally crappy experience” accessing mental health services, adding that SHS delays also affect his ability to support students and peers in his classes.

“It’s hard for fellow students and staff to offer support when we aren’t trained to,” said Le. “[The people] we are supposed to refer them to can’t even help in a timely fashion”.

The AMS also operates drop-in mental health support services like Speakeasy, which provides peer counselling, and AMS Vice, which supports students in overcoming or moderating substance use and other addictions.

Le says these services help fill a need for quick mental health support that UBC doesn't.

“They will never claim to be a replacement for a trained counselor, but as a [student] service on campus, [they try] their best to make things better,” he said.

At the AMS' annual general meeting on October 23, Student Services Manager Piers Fleming said Speakeasy had experienced considerable growth in visits this year due largely to its new position in the Student Life Building and new online booking services.

The society did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Provincial priority

Student mental health also continues to be a growing concern and top priority task for the province.

In mandate letters addressed to each public post-secondary institution in British Columbia, the ministry of advanced education highlighted universities’ needs to improve its services for its students.

This requires UBC and other post-secondary universities in BC are required acknowledge and continue to bring student mental health to the forefront via notable and concrete actions within the next year.

“All institutions are asked to describe what actions are planned or implemented related to the priorities [of student mental health services],” said a spokesperson for the ministry of advanced education, skills and training.

A UBC response has yet to be officially stated but a signature from all UBC Board members is noted on the document. An urgency to make sure students know what resources are available is a top priority regarding UBC’s response.

“UBC supports a collaborative care approach in supporting student’s health and wellbeing needs” Dr. Robertson said.