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For the first time in at least four years, there was no wait for ongoing counselling at the Centre for Student Development and Counselling (CSDC) on Monday.
This time last year, on top of waiting up to two weeks for an assessment appointment with a Ryerson counsellor, students had to wait four to five weeks to access ongoing counselling services.
“It’s due to a lot of hard work here from the counselling group that we’re sitting on Sept. 25, with the same number of students coming through the door as last year — not less, not more — without a wait,” said Allan Macdonald, Ryerson’s director of student health and wellness.
Macdonald said students were only waitlisted earlier this week if they didn’t want to start seeing a one-on-one counsellor regularly just yet.
But while Macdonald praised the centre for the accomplishment, he said it’s only a matter of time until it starts back up again.
“We’re not going to be in a position much longer where we don’t have a wait,” said Macdonald.
There are two kinds of wait times at Ryerson’s CSDC. “Wait 1” refers to the wait for an assessment appointment, after making a first request to the CSDC. If the counsellor and student decide regular counselling is the next step, students are waitlisted under “wait 2” until there’s an opening for regular one-on-one counselling at the Centre.
Infographic by Emma King.
Macdonald says the CSDC has seen improvements in both wait periods since last year.
The longest period that students had to wait for a consultation appointment this month was one week.
Macdonald said he now hopes to keep “wait 1” times under two weeks and “wait 2” times under a month.
Rajeeha Siddiqui, the education co-director of Ryerson’s Students for Mental Awareness, Support and Health (SMASH), said a one week wait for an assessment appointment still concerns her.
“If it’s a serious case and it’s not dealt with appropriately or at an appropriate time, then it can turn out to be something that’s really big,” she said. “It can turn out to be denial or just not going to the service.”
SMASH focuses on helping students become independent when confronting their mental health by providing informational pamphlets, peer support groups and other events.
“I’m really very delighted that we’ve reached a place now where there is no wait time for counselling,” said John Austin, interim vice-provost of student affairs. “It’s not the norm in Canada.”
The number of students who saw a counsellor within 48 hours of their request this month is 15 per cent less than September 2016. But overall, students this year had to wait a week less, a one week wait at most, for their first-time appointment.
Waitlists at Ryerson’s counselling services got a bad reputation in 2013 when “wait 2” times reached a record high of an estimated six to twelve months.
“We reached a crisis,” said Austin. “We had so many students seeking mental health services and we didn’t have enough counselling resources to match that, so we were overwhelmed with the waitlist.”
Since then, the CSDC has created new therapy groups and partnered with programs like the Student Health Assistance and Resilience Program (SHARP) so counsellors can refer students to options other than regular counselling.
Two new counsellors were also hired in 2016 to combat wait times.
Macdonald said this year the CSDC is focusing on a pilot brief-counselling model, creating formal relationships with groups on campus so counsellors can refer students to various programs depending on their needs. This would improve therapy groups and their partnership with Hard Feelings, an off-campus counselling option for students.
Ryerson students who don’t opt out of the Ryerson Students’ Union’s health and dental plan are covered for $500 dollars in counselling each year that they can put towards Hard Feelings counselling services.
The quaint storefront, located at 848 Bloor St. W., sells books, self-love trinkets and doubles as a community practice for counsellors interested in offering low-cost counselling services to Torontonians.
“Counselling can be really expensive and hard to access,” said Hard Feelings founder Kate Scowen, who’s previously worked as a Ryerson counsellor. “Free services often have wait lists and waiting can make things a lot worse for people,” she added.
Torontonians can get 10 to 12 sessions, with the potential of three booster sessions, from one of their nine Masters of Social Work qualified practitioners.
Scowen said they’ve already seen Ryerson students since they opened their doors for appointments and referrals on Sept. 18.
In need of help? You can call Ryerson’s CSDC at 416-979-5195 or visit the Centre at their Jorgenson Hall (JOR-072) office.
For details on Hard Feelings, check out https://www.hardfeelings.org/