Is the AMS’s student coverage for psychological services enough?

Financial concerns, heavy academic obligations and the transition of moving away from home for the first time: these are just a few of the factors that put post-secondary students at high risk for mental health problems. Working within a university that has been criticized for its struggle to catch up to student needs in this regard, how is the student government doing?

At a recent AMS Council meeting, during a bid for a seat on the student health and well-being committee, one councillor brought up that he would like to see mental health coverage reexamined.

Students at UBC currently have access to $300 per calendar year for psychological services through StudentCare — the insurance plan negotiated by representatives of the AMS and GSS. How far this goes depends on the specific issue a student is dealing with. A session with a registered psychologist typically costs $190 and a session with a registered counsellor typically costs $120. The $300 allotment will cover only one to two sessions, unless the professional is willing to provide sliding-scale cost for the service.

Ingrid Söchting, registered psychologist and director of the UBC Psychology Clinic, explained that this can go a long way for certain issues, like panic disorder, if used in conjunction with more affordable options like online programs.

For other serious mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, the coverage is not sufficient. Söchting estimated that in such cases, 10 to 20 sessions are required.

Students have access to short-term treatment with registered clinical counsellors, social workers or registered psychologists for free through the UBC Counselling Service. But demand for the service often outweighs the supply, resulting in wait-times for treatment.

In an attempt to address this imbalance, the AMS/GSS has launched a pilot project this September in conjunction with UBC, providing students with access to EmpowerMe. Through this service, students are covered for up to seven phone calls with consultants, counsellors or life coaches who are available 24/7.

While this service may be extremely valuable to students who are looking for help getting organized and dealing with short-term stressors, Söchting cautioned that students need to be aware of the limitations of competence and qualifications.

“As a psychologist, I’ve seen harm being done when a therapist does not have formal training in mental health problems and evidence-based therapy,” she said.

“It can do more harm than good. It’s sad because the person seeking the services may not necessarily have known. People should not feel bad about asking for qualifications.”