USC adds $500 psych benefit to health plan

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

After dealing with frustrated student complaints about the waiting list at Student Health Services for counselling, the University Students’ Council is planning to grant students $500 for the use of off-campus psychologists.

James Arthurs, VP-campus issues, said last year students could wait for up to three months for an appointment. He believes some students with mental health needs can’t wait that long.

Dr. Thomas Macfarlane, director of SHS, admitted the wait for an appointment could be long at times. “There were 150 people on the waiting list at one time,” Macfarlane said.

He insisted last year’s long wait was due to students’ impatience. “60 per cent of students declined two offers for appointment times,” he recalled. “It makes you wonder how high their mental health issue was on their priority list.”

Macfarlane believes the need to send students off campus does not mean SHS isn’t fulfilling their mandate.

He insists he is happy with the decision. “Let me make it clear. I am not upset by this. I know we’re doing a good job,” he said. “We’ve been doing the best we can with the services we have.”

Psychologists in the London community are thrilled with the idea. “For Western to recognize that [mental health] is a vital service and not a perk is great,” Dr. Felicia Otchet, a London psychologist, said.

But Dr. Kate Partdrige, local psychologist, worried the $500 wouldn’t get a student much time with a psychologist, since the cost can be as much as $120 an hour.

Partridge remained positive. “Even if you can afford a good assessment from a psychologist, that’s helpful.”

Another possible kink in the plan is waiting times, which might not be faster off campus.

The wait for a psychologist is based on a student’s situation and their flexibility.

“Depending on someone’s flexibility, I can see [him or her] within a few weeks,” Otchet said.

“We’re finding the hospitals completely jammed,” Macfarlane said.

SHS will also see students immediately if their situation is serious. Macfarlane explained, “Students deemed as ‘acutely’ ill by triage would see a medical physician until they can see a counselor.”

Arthur agreed long wait-times for health services is not an issue restricted to Western. “It’s an overarching need that stems way farther than this campus, but at least [now students] can go look on their own,” he explained.

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