Students are getting lost in Student Health Services’s months-long psychiatry waitlist

UBC’s mental health-related services are once again under fire after UBC Confessions published a letter from UBC Student Health Services (SHS) to an anonymous recipient on May 24.

In the letter, it shows that SHS wasn't able to arrange a psychiatry appointment for the recipient, despite them having already been on the waitlist for six months. The recipient has also been removed from the waitlist because they are no longer a UBC student.

In response, the post was accompanied with the comment, “haha fuck you UBC health services for never getting me the help I needed.” This feeling of frustration and similar anecdotes were also shared by students in the post’s comment thread.

In particular, UBC Confessions posted an anonymous response from a student claiming that they had been on the waitlist for 10 months before getting to see a psychiatrist – four of which were after going to the emergency room while suicidal.

When asked about these instances, Dr. Marna Nelson — director of SHS — responded with the procedures that SHS would have taken to maintain student’s wellbeing.

“If a student is no longer a registered student at UBC, we want to make sure that they have received an appropriate referral to a psychiatrist in the community [because they’re no longer on our psychiatry waiting list],” said Nelson.

Regarding the situation outlined in the anonymous response, she clarified that this was abnormal — students who go to the emergency room are usually moved to the “urgent” waitlist in the majority of cases. 

According to her, there are also different categories on the waitlist, which could affect when students receive their appointment.

“If someone is in an emergency, they’re sent to the hospital the same day or if they’re extremely urgent, they’re sent to the access and assessment centre for care within two to five days,” said Nelson. “If someone is on the regular list, then they have less priority to see a psychiatrist ... It could [take] as short as one month or it could be up to several months depending on the time of year.”

In return for the longer waitlist, those in the regular list are supposed to have outside support systems, such as an ongoing appointment with a family physician or support from counselling.

However, according to one anonymous third-year student who was on the waitlist for four months, she didn't receive any of these supports. Other methods like referrals to community supports and academic accommodations were also absent, which she noted greatly impacted her first year of university.

“Nope, I didn’t even receive a single email from them, nothing. I had to look for support on my own … they weren’t referred to me or anything,” she said, while clarifying that she did receive anti-anxiety medication from her doctor from outside of UBC SHS in the meantime. 

In response, Nelson acknowledged this as an area for improvement.

“I appreciate that you brought that to our attention. I think that’s something that I can work on, which is providing additional information for these students ... making sure that students are aware of supports,” she said. 

Moving forward, UBC SHS is currently in the process of hiring two to three additional psychiatrists, which will hopefully decrease the waitlist time.

“So, currently we’re actually in a really good position in terms of the psychiatry waiting list,” said Nelson. “One of the psychiatrists started work weeks ago and our current urgent semi-urgent waitlist right now is one week.

This article has been updated to better reflect the third anonymous student’s situation at the time of the referral.