Initial assessment wait times happen with a day, but secondary counselling remains an issue
The average wait time for follow-up psycho-therapy appointments last year was six weeks, according to Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it,” said Ryerson’s director of student mental health Allan MacDonald, adding that he’s hesitant to put a number to it because there are students who waited longer than six weeks and those who waited less in 2018-19.
When people are forced to wait for counseling services, they’re more likely to be prescribed medication, said Oakville Hospital pharmacist Dr.Boris Tong, who specializes in mental health clinical pharmacy. “In terms of mild to moderate depression or anxiety, we have to turn to medication because there’s less counselling resources,” he said. “Prescribers are forced to steer towards medication.”
But, Tong added,medication alone is not always the answer. In order to be effective, he said it must be paired with counselling services or some sort of coping mechanism skills.
Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling has two wait times. After a student has submitted a request for an initial assessment, they encounter “wait time 1.” Following the assessment, if the counsellor and student agree that ongoing psychotherapy is needed, MacDonald said, then students are waitlisted for counselling under “wait time 2.” The waitlist is prioritized using a number of criteria including the presenting issue(s), a student’s safety risk level and length of waiting.
Half of the students who request an initial assessment are accommodated within 24 hours and the remainder are seen within a week, according to data supported by Ryerson’s development and counselling centre.
These rates are a slight improvement from September 2017, where 45 per cent of students waited 48 hours for an initial assessment and the remainder were seen within one week.
Back in 2012, a Macleans study found that university students were experiencing a “mental health crisis.” The study reported that Ryerson had a 200 per cent increase in demand from students in crisis situations. That increase meant the goal of getting students seen within a two week period wasn’t met, rather, the wait became as much as three to four times longer.
Initial counselling appointments can currently be same-day appointments, an appointment for a student in crisis, or immediate, brief counselling. Students can also contact their counselor at the development and counselling centre if their situation changes or if they need immediate support.
“The initial assessment is crystal clear: you come in, you identify your need, and then you’re seen,” MacDonald said. “It’s something we’ve spent a lot of time on and we’re proud of the changes that have been made.”
While MacDonald said he approves of the underlying changes that have been made to “wait time 1,” he said “wait time 2” takes a much broader approach due to the resources available, making it challenging to address.
“It’s hard to pin down a single number,” MacDonald said, adding that although the school tries their best, it comes down to a client’s needs and the factors that surround it. “It can be anywhere from days to weeks.”
Students have different options available to support them, including community resources, group therapy, or groups within the counselling centre. Ryerson is invested in different prevention and promotion programs to optimize access for students in need, according to the development and counselling centre.
A 2016 National College Health Assessment found that 44 per cent of 43,780 Canadian post-secondary students felt too depressed to function and 65 per cent experienced overwhelming anxiety.
To combat this, Ryerson’s development and counselling centre offers a number of ‘Take Care’ group programs to help students. The programs, which run between four and six weeks, help students tackle case-specific issues, including anxiety, depression and cultural adjustment. To mitigate wait times, MacDonald said that the volume of groups such as these have increased within the last three to four years.
As of September, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) health and dental plan increased coverage for counselling services from $500 to $1000 per benefit year, which students can now use towards community psycho-therapy.
“We’re all very pleased with the changes that have been made, it’s a huge step forward,” MacDonald said. “Unfortunately, psycho-therapy and a lot of mental health care is not funded by OHIP and the fact that Ryerson students have access to $1000 is a nice improvement.”