What’s the story behind the two-week UBC Counselling wait?

Amidst classes in full force, midterms ending, finals beginning and sombre November weather, UBC’s counselling office has been overwhelmed by an influx of students in need, seeking proximal and accessible support on campus.

With mental health and wellness heavily on the radar for this school year, UBC has been no exception to the ever-growing buzz surrounding the issue. Former student Ji Youn Kim’s article was featured in news and social media earlier in the semester, spreading the word about the importance of mental health awareness for students. Her movement, The Tipping Point, has since generated a following on Facebook numbering over a thousand people. The UBC Mental Health Awareness Club and the recent Thrive Week also have goals of raising mental health awareness on campus.

Social media slander

Anecdotal comments and stories from other UBC students have surfaced on social media, including Facebook groups, comments, Reddit and more — mostly putting UBC’s counselling services under fire.

Reddit user “JangsJudgement,” a UBC science student, wrote on an r/UBC thread last month about their experience with UBC’s counselling services and the wait time they experienced. 

“So I had midterms these past two weeks,” the user wrote on Reddit. “Felt super shitty afterward [so I] decided to visit UBC Counselling for some assistance because I feel like I’m getting closer to my breaking point.” 

JangJudgement’s dissatisfaction appeared to be the result of the two-week wait time between their arrival at the front desk of the counselling office and actually speaking to a professional. 

“Nothing is said about a two-week wait. [On the website], it sounds as though you transition right from the forms to the consultation. If the two-week wait is ‘usual,’ perhaps the website should repeat that information instead of … implying something else altogether.” 

Comments such as “It’s [one] of those things where an institution publicly makes it seem they truly care about an issue, but doesn't put the necessary resources towards it,” and “I just gave up on them and was like, ‘Fuck it, I’ll just deal with my issues myself,’” were echoed in the comments of the same Reddit thread.

When a student experiences these longer wait times — the wait isn’t consistently several weeks long— they are a result of a massive increase in demand for the counselling service. According to statistics from UBC Counselling, in 2015, 954 students were seen from September 1 to November 2. This year’s numbers, in that same two-month time span, jumped up by over 300 students, with 1,259 individuals seeking counselling. The service also sees a significant spike in demand during midterms and finals season.

Are wait times just pulled out of a hat?

While UBC Counselling receives a lot of backlash over long wait times and occasionally poor communication, it is a free service that is meant to be easily accessible and available for all students, regardless of their needs. 

In an interview with The Ubyssey, the director of UBC Counselling, Dr. Cheryl Washburn, spoke regarding the various services that are offered through the service and how students can best avail of these resources.

“We need to understand the nature and urgency of the concern,” said Washburn. “We work within a stepped-care model that is designed to connect a student to the least intensive, but [most] effective level of care.” 

This stepped-care system encourages students to self-report the urgency of their situation to front desk staff. It is recommended that students provide all necessary and relevant background information at this time such as what symptoms they are experiencing and other important aspects of their mental health. The service is best used when a student is able to identify his or her own needs and what they need from counselling.

“The first step would be a consultation. Our front desk staff allows the student to identify the type of appointment that is going to be the best fit,” said Washburn. 

After the initial consultation, the potential courses of action are provided on a case-by-case basis. Resources “range in intensity from self-directed resources that focus on group therapy … all the way up to crisis response and hospitalization,” according to Washburn. 

Some students are seen immediately upon their arrival at the counselling office, while some are seen at a later date, depending on their situation. Emergency appointments are also available for students who have urgent, more pressing concerns, as identified in their consultations. 

As for the wait times, “we really want students to be seen as timely as possible and we do our best,” said Washburn. She noted that if a student truly feels they need to be seen immediately, “it’s important they [talk] to us and we can try our best to see them sooner.”

Who will your counsellor be?

There are currently 18 counsellors working on-site at UBC Counselling. There are two types of professionals that might work with counselling at UBC, according to Washburn. These types are people with a minimum educational level of a master’s degree in counselling, psychology or social work — who are all also registered social workers — or alternatively, clinical psychologists who are registered with the College of Psychology of British Columbia.

On-campus success stories

UBC Counselling isn’t the best solution for everyone, but some students are very happy with their experience. 

“I actually had a really good experience with UBC Counselling,” said Nico Yu, a fourth-year arts student, speaking of their experience as something vital to their mental health and well-being. Yu agreed that while counselling does have its problems, when it comes to dire situations and serious mental health concerns, UBC provides students with necessary, and sometimes life-saving, care.

“[My experience] was really good because the counsellor I spoke to made sure I made an appointment to come in every week, just to make sure I was doing okay. And [even] when I was no longer at risk, she still made the effort to chat with me every week and every other week … I don’t know how where I’d be without that experience,” they said.

Although other students that The Ubyssey interviewed also cited some issues with the counselling service, another student managed to find support in a place most wouldn’t expect. 

“I’m personally a member of Greek life on campus,” said Brenna Dowling, a fifth-year English major. “My particular organization [has] specific individuals who help in dealing with … troubles academically … problems with mental health, or if you’re just overly stressed because you’ve committed yourself to too many things. When I wasn’t able to access UBC Counselling, they’ve been a really good rock.”

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadian adults will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Forty-nine per cent of people suffering from mental illness have never — and most likely will never — seek professional help regarding their conditions. With figures like these, it is crucial that students who are feeling overwhelmed by something that might be a mental health issue seek assistance. 

Whether you seek help through UBC Counselling services, Speakeasy, the Greek System or one of the many alternatives outside of campus, help in some form is always available and you are not alone.


On-campus resources

The Wellness Centre at UBC. Students can “ask questions to trained students about things like safer sex, how to manage stress, eating well and sleep.”

Speakeasy. This is a service that provides “a non-judgmental, supportive ear for students and faculty members who are feeling distressed.”

Healthy Minds at UBC. A blog run by “trained students … providing a personal perspective on topics such as managing stress, how to make friends on such a large campus, how to practice good eating habits and how to stay healthy while thriving academically.”

Resources in the community, off-campus

If nothing on campus is working, there are still many ways to get help. Other resources for mental health and wellness are widely available in the community, and are often run by the province of British Columbia. Below is a list of just some of the many services available in the Lower Mainland:

The provincial Suicide Hotline is reachable at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

310Mental Health Support (310-6789 — do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) is also available 24 hours a day for urgent support.

Coast Mental Health has put together an extremely comprehensive list of resources and phone numbers for anything pertaining to mental health issues.

BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS) offers a list of available services the one can be referred to within Greater Vancouver.

Chimo Community Services, located in Richmond, provides crisis counselling through “crisis, transition and through education,” according to their website. They too have a crisis hotline number (604-279-7070) that runs from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. seven days a week, answered by professionally trained volunteers.

Here To Help BC offers self-help resources such as screening tests online and information sheets on mental health and wellness.

Mindcheck.ca is “designed to help youth and young adults … check out how they’re feeling and quickly connect to mental health resources and support. Support includes education, self-care tools, website links and assistance in connecting to local professional resources.”

If you are in need of immediate assistance, medical distress or have an emergency, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Reddit user JangsJudgement is an engineering student, when in fact they are in the faculty of science. The Ubyssey regrets this error.