By: Andrew Ng

SFU students with mental health concerns could find themselves waiting up to two weeks for services during midterm and final exam periods, according to SFU’s health and counselling services (HCS).

It’s during these peak periods that demand for services can increase the wait times, HCS counsellors Dylan Le Roy and Lyndsay Cotterall told The Peak via email. However, a student in urgent need is sometimes able to see a counsellor or mental health nurse when they first visit the clinic.

Following the end of the semester, some students turn to social media to voice their struggles with mental health issues, wait times for counselling services, and difficulties maintaining their grades.

As of the spring 2017 term, the total number of students seen by counselling services this academic year had reached 1,264, reported Terence Ng, health finance manager for HCS.

In the 2015–16 academic year, a total of 1,599 students used counselling services, with student enrolment at 33,624. This was a significant increase from the previous year, wherein HCS had a total of 1,410 student clients among 33,853 enrolled in the university.

According to the HCS website, “[p]ost-secondary institutions across Canada [are reporting] an increase in the number of students presenting with mental health concerns.”

“The negative impact of stress is well researched and stress can be a barrier for completion of academic work, concentration, relationships, and can have an impact on a person physiologically,” Le Roy and Cotterall stated.

When a student requests to see an HCS counsellor for mental health issues, the wait for services can depend on the student’s flexibility in scheduling, they noted. The wait times for new students with HCS and returning students do not differ.

HCS offers additional resources to students who feel that their mental health situation is affecting their academic performance, from stress relief workshops to safe-space support groups. Students on wait lists can also be referred to external supports or crisis phone lines.

If students are experiencing difficulties in tackling their schoolwork, HCS indicated that it also offers online resources, including links to online applications, that can help those experiencing distress.

On its website, the HCS summarizes the causes for increasing numbers of post-secondary students facing mental health issues identified in a study done by Gail MacKean in 2011 for the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services. They include a stressful and competitive university environment, stress from social pressure and transitions, and more adolescents who already have mental health conditions pursuing higher education.

In the 2016 National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a survey that tabulates data on student health, stress was the top factor that students reported negatively impacted their academic performance, followed by anxiety and sleep difficulties.

Work, sickness due to colds, flus, and sore throats, as well as depression and finances came after, according to Le Roy and Cotterall.

The NCHA had 1,083 SFU respondents in its 2016 assessment.

The university does have an option that students can apply to withdraw from classes retroactively if their health has negatively affected their class performance.

Concetta Di Francesco, the manager at student academic appeals, noted that students wishing to withdraw themselves from courses for mental health reasons can apply for withdrawal under extenuating circumstances.

According to the appeals section of the SFU website, a student withdrawing from a course would receive a grade of “WE,” which would leave their cumulative grade point average unaffected.

Students can visit the website for more details on how to initiate the process, Di Francesco added.