THE VARSITY recently reported that the University of Toronto Students’ Union is expanding its financial commitment to cover psychological care. As of September 2016, the revised health and dental plan will now provide students up to $100 of coverage per session with a registered psychologist, for up to 20 sessions a year.
These changes were met with overwhelmingly positive responses from many students, and the praise is arguably well-deserved. Certainly, the UTSU should be lauded for its efforts to provide increased financial support for students struggling with mental health issues.
That said, it is also important to recognize that this represents only a small step on an incredibly long road to full support for mental health on campus. If we want to tackle student mental health effectively, the financial and social contexts of the issue must be emphasized.
Although students under the UTSU’s health and dental plan can now subsidize their psychological care to a greater extent, the UTSU itself has admitted that per-session costs of appointments with health professionals exceed the coverage they are able to offer. This means that the majority of patients will still have to pay a significant amount of money for psychological treatment.
Furthermore, the UTSU will only cover the cost of up to 20 sessions a year, which is less than the support required by students with significant mental health concerns.
More troubling, however, is the fact that increasing financial coverage for mental health services may not suffice to help the students who need it the most. Stigma continues to surround most, if not all, mental illnesses. Affected students may live with their conditions for years without telling others, fearful of being labelled as unstable, attention-seeking, or even dangerous, if they choose to come forward.
Although wellness programs and awareness campaigns on campus are increasing, students’ concerns that they will be misunderstood or rejected continue to haunt many, often leading them to suffer in silence. These students are unlikely to extend their trust to a clinician, if they cannot even count on the support of those around them.
Some disorders inhibit the patient’s ability to determine that they are in need of treatment. It may be particularly difficult for an individual suffering from an eating or psychotic disorder to seek out treatment, therefore rendering them incapable of taking advantage of the UTSU’s offer for help.
In line with the idea of making it easier for students to come forward, it seems that mental health initiatives are increasing on campus. Earlier this year, it was announced that Trinity College would be launching its own mental wellness program, aided by a $1.75 million subsidy for these services. The UTSU has also pursued several mental health initiatives throughout the year, including offering phototherapy for students suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
It is these types of initiatives that must continue to supplement increases in financial coverage, so as to more effectively reach out to all students — even those who are hesitant to accept help. Although increased financial coverage for psychological treatment is a step in the right direction, work needs to continue in pursuit of more long-term, sustainable, and well-rounded solutions.
With the UTSU elections underway, it is my hope that the winning candidates will continue to fight for mental health support on campus. In the meantime, we must acknowledge that increases in coverage are noble but still just a small improvement to one part of an incredibly complex problem.
Teodora Pasca is a second-year student at Innis College studying ethics, society, and law and criminology. She is an associate comment editor for The Varsity. Her column appears every three weeks.