My Experience With University Mental Health Services
Our system isn’t perfect, but it helped me.
I was preparing to study for midterms and the depression hit me like a freight truck. If you ask me what I remember from my classes during that time, I won’t be able to tell you much. But here’s what I can tell you: I was crying. Every. Single. Night. I wasn’t suicidal, but the thought of jumping down from a ledge–any one of them on campus–was on my mind all the time. I remember taking longer routes to get to class just to avoid seeing them.
Nobody’s experience will be just like mine. But, if one in every five Canadian post-secondary students is depressed, anxious, or battling mental health issues, we have a problem. So, why aren’t more of us using the mental health services our schools provide?
How I got help
I made an appointment with the Health and Counselling Services centre at Simon Fraser University in October of last year. At the time, seeing Health and Counselling was not on top of my to-do list for two reasons.
First, I was incredibly naive, and thought none of the counsellors could give me advice that I could pick myself up off the ground with.
Second, I’d already had a terrible experience with Health and Counselling in my first year of university.
Flashback: I sat down, in front of a middle-aged person, feeling somewhat sad and anxious (a result of my own mental health issues mixed with stress), expecting them to make me feel better. Instead, I walked out of the appointment defeated. Because, after confiding in this person my mental health issues, the counsellor told me my problems weren’t that bad. That I should try and just get some rest or something.
For almost two years I didn’t go back to seek help.
In hindsight, I would have been a much happier person if I had tried again, because I hit the jackpot when I made my second appointment this past October. I found someone who was more empathetic this time, a counselling student doing her practicum.
Not only did she listen to me without judgement, she gave me advice on self-care, and on how to handle my depression. It was so thoughtful, I cried. Over several sessions, I slowly learned how to be happy again.
Why students don’t take advantage of mental health services (and why you should give them a chance)
“I won’t get help anytime soon”
The stories of ridiculously long wait times discourage us from making an appointment for fear that, by the time we reach our turn, our problems will either solve themselves, spiral out of control, or we’ll have already graduated.
That said, waiting times for counselling and therapy across Ontario (not just at universities) often range between 6 and 12 months, so campus mental health services aren’t comparatively terrible.
Also, health and counselling offices prioritize appointments based on the severity of a student’s needs. Meaning, if it’s urgent, make sure not to underplay the severity of your needs when describing them to the person scheduling you in. In some cases, you’ll even be seen on the same day you go in to make the appointment.
“The bad press must be right”
When a student asks their friend, “hey, have you been to the university’s counsellors? Are they any good?” and the friend says “yeah, I had a terrible experience,” that’s bound to stick.
Although having friends you can depend on for advice is fantastic, you are not your friends. Ditto for news sources and their statistics. Just because your friend had a bad experience with a counsellor, doesn’t mean you will. In my case, it took meeting two different people to find the right fit. And, to be fair, it’s possible someone different from me would have thought that first counsellor I met with gives great advice.
“It’s not legit”
At Simon Fraser University, the majority of the counselling team are either predoctoral interns or counselling students (as opposed to licensed psychologists with a PhD). As a result, some students think they won’t get meaningful advice during their session.
I disagree, based on personal experience. I think it makes for a much more comfortable experience when a counsellor is someone you can identify with. After all, the person who (successfully!) helped me was probably in her late twenties.
Why should you give university mental health services a chance?
Because you don’t have to be the only one dealing with your mental health issues. If you’re struggling, visit Health and Counselling services at your post-secondary institution. They might just save you.