UBC Psychiatry waitlist has reportedly decreased, but concerns with the system remain

Dr. Marna Nelson, the director of Student Health Services (SHS), said that UBC Psychiatry’s waitlist has significantly decreased since the summer.

She said in an emailed statement that while the wait time still varies based on the time of the year and the number of urgent referrals, the current approximation for an urgent referral is one to three weeks; for a non-urgent referral, the wait is six to eight weeks.

“This is significantly improved from last year, when the waiting time was three months or often longer,” said Nelson.

The Ubyssey looked at SHS’s psychiatry waitlist over the summer after a student claimed that they spent 10 months on the waitlist before eventually losing their place on the waitlist due to no longer being a student.

“Since [the summer], things have improved in two different areas…. So with the Empower Me [program], students can now have access to counselling off-campus for more visits than were paid for before… [and] we now have more psychiatrists here then we had before,” said Nelson in an interview with The Ubyssey. She also mentioned that the university has invested an additional $2.5 million in mental health resourcing, such as towards UBC’s Wellness Centre and counselling staff.

"No matter how many psychiatrists we hire, there’s always more … referrals than appointments available."

— Dr. Marna Nelson, director of Student Health Services

While the actual waitlist may be shorter than before, there are now concerns about which students can get onto that waitlist and why.

Susanne Kim, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, said that when she asked her doctor at SHS about getting a referral to a psychiatrist she was told that she was doing “too well” for this to happen.

“While I understand there are of course always people who struggle more than me, that are deserving of an imminent spot, I found it disappointing that UBC wasn’t able to provide me with a service I feel I could strongly benefit from,” said Kim.

In response, Nelson said, “It’s a case-by-case basis. It may have been that for this particular student, the family physician already knew they wouldn’t get an appointment based on the needs at the time. So then we try and work out other resources.

“We actually have more psychiatry appointments available than we had [this summer]. But nevertheless, no matter how many psychiatrists we hire, there’s always more … referrals than appointments available.”

Kim said that she does receive ongoing support from her doctor, but that she felt she could benefit from seeing a specialist.

“It’s easier to get better when you’re doing better,” said Kim. In her opinion, receiving help sooner rather than later would help her “sustain or get better, as opposed to inevitably, things getting worse later.”

University President Santa Ono has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to mental health resources on campus. He recently commented on the importance of early prevention in a joint op-ed in The Globe and Mail that he wrote with the Chancellor of the University of Toronto, asking, “What if we waited until Stage 4 to treat cancer?”

“Imagine if the standard of treatment was equal for mental and physical health conditions,” he continued in the letter. “Not only would it significantly improve the lives of those living with a mental illness, it would save lives.”