*The red bars for the last 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 years in the graphs above indicate only the number of individual cases. Statistics courtesy of Ryerson University’s CSDC.
Demand is at a record high for counselling services at Ryerson.
The Centre for Student Development and Counselling is becoming overwhelmed with more requests for appointments and the subsequent increase in wait times.
“The difficulty is that the demand in terms of volume and seriousness is just outstripping the resources,” said Su-Ting Teo, Ryerson’s director of student health and wellness.
A three per cent base budget cut for the fifth year in a row at Ryerson is one reason the counselling centre lacks sufficient resources to help more students sooner.
The CSDC’s total budget for the 2013 to 2014 academic year is $1.224 million, according to John Austin, Ryerson’s executive director of student affairs. Of this figure, $1.147 million is base funding from the university.
The additional $77,000 was the result of special requests for extra funding, Teo said. Half of it comes from One Time Only funding (cash recovered from unspent money from the previous year) and the other half comes from student fees.
While the total figure is up from last year’s budget of about $1.1 million, which was only from base funding, this increase still can’t keep up with the surge in demand each year.
Since November, wait times at the counselling centre have been an estimated six months to one year, said Sarah Thompson, clinical co-ordinator at the CSDC.
This is a record high for the counselling centre, since wait times did not exceed four months in the past. She said that in past years they were typically about three months for psychotherapy.
“I don’t want anybody who has found the courage to pick up that phone and call for help to have to wait,” Thompson said.
“I’m not happy that students have to wait three weeks for a first appointment at all. I mean, best practice is same-day (appointments).” Cases are currently prioritized by urgency.
“If a student has safety concerns, we see them within 24 hours,” Thompson said. “If a student is beginning to have very significant difficulties functioning, like getting out of their house or attending classes on at least a semi-regular basis, we really aim to see them for a first contact within a week.”
She said there are not enough resources to see all students the same day, but many others are consistently coming in for ongoing care.
The recent rise in wait times is because of a sharp increase in demand for psychotherapy for mild to moderate cases, Teo said. According to figures from the CSDC, the number of cases grew to 120 students from 50 students in the last six weeks of the fall 2013 semester.
In order to handle the demand, Thompson made a budget request for two more counsellors and the funds to provide them with office space for the 2014 to 2015 academic year.
It would cost a total of about $170,000 to hire the counsellors, according to Austin.
Approximately 95 per cent of the CSDC’s budget pays salaries and benefits for counsellors, Teo said. The rest of the money, about $30,000, covers operational costs, which includes expenses such as computers and stationery.
Although there are currently 12 full-time counsellors and five part-time interns working at the CSDC, Thompson said it’s still not enough to accommodate the volume of students seeking help.
However, students on waitlists have a few other options to consider, Thompson said.
One option is being connected to external counselling services. Although it is becoming more difficult to find free therapists, students who have insurance can find the help they need outside Ryerson. Green Shield Canada offers $350 worth of coverage for members of their plan.
Another option is group therapy through the counselling centre. Thompson said a new set of groups will be added to the existing sessions to account for high demand. She said it’s just one way to alleviate the strain on the centre’s ability to help students.
“I’m working on many solutions, and we’re making changes all the time, but at some point, the rate at which we can change is constrained by the resources and the space, and everyone is aware of that,” Thompson said.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 12, 2014.