It’s been called a “crisis on campus” by various media outlets, and it’s not an issue specific to Dalhousie. Mental illness, in all its forms, is a pressing issue at universities across North America. A staggering 20 per cent of Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their life. And according to Statistics Canada, of particular relevance to universities, teenagers and young adults aged 15–24 experience the highest incidence of mental health issues of any age group.
During the 2013–2014 academic year, Dalhousie’s Counselling & Psychological Services Centre saw 1,248 students for brief initial consultations (BICs). That was a 23 per cent increase over the previous year.
Of those 1,248 students: 51 needed immediate counselling on an emergency basis; 325 were given expedited counselling within about a week; and 763 were put on a wait list for “regular priority” counselling, which they received in an average of just under 20 days. While that wait time was slightly better than the previous year, it’s still not as short as Dalhousie would like.
“Student demand for our counselling services is at an all-time high,” says Verity Turpin, executive director of Student Health & Wellness. “Despite hiring a new full-time counsellor in the fall, some students are still waiting a number of weeks to start their sessions.”
To help combat the wait times and allow for more immediate service, President Richard Florizone’s office recently provided funding to hire two new part-time (.5 FTE) counsellors for 10-month terms. The new psychologists, Patricia MacDonald and Heather Patterson, will surely be busy when they start in the coming weeks.
Joanne Mills, director of Counselling Services, says the demand for its services has increased over the last five years by 68 per cent. Last year alone, the Centre provided 7,535 individual counselling sessions and 97 workshops and group programs. And it’s not slowing down.
“This past fall, we saw a 93 per cent increase in emergency appointments over last year,” she says. “The top three reasons for students coming in for counselling are anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues, followed by interpersonal issues and relationship problems.”
The new counsellors will complement other initiatives to alleviate the backlog at Counselling Services.
“Since more students are coming to see us with more serious challenges, our Counselling team has increased the BICs offered,” says Turpin. “This means students will see one of our professionals quickly so they receive immediate support and their individual needs can be assessed. Dal students are also always able to get support through our primary health care team in Student Health Services: physicians, psychiatrist (by referral), nurse practitioner, and nurses.”
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