If you’ve ever stepped foot on an SFU campus, chances are you’ve seen the countless posters by Health & Counselling promoting the mental health and well-being app, MySSP. The app is basically a virtual counselling service for SFU students, meant to provide free 24/7 service to those needing to reach out for support or talk to someone. While the concept is, in-theory, both convenient and useful for immediate situations, the app has its downfalls and is in no way an adequate replacement for increased (and improved) counselling and mental health services funded by the university.
For those unfamiliar with the app, the service is offered by the company, Morneau Shepell — a human resources service, primarily intended for workplaces and apparently struggling post-secondary students as well. As advertised, MySSP offers on-going support by appointment and referral to on-campus services, alongside their immediate consultation through the app. Since I’ve personally struggled a bit with my mental health and have turned to the app in times of need, there are a couple of major problems I’ve encountered that concern me about both the app itself and where SFU is choosing to allocate its funding for mental health services.
The first couple of times I’ve turned to MySSP I used the standard messaging service, where (depending on your level of risk) you get connected to a counsellor. Immediately, I found myself waiting quite a bit for this process, which in a vulnerable situation is not ideal. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I found myself anticipating when the counsellor would get back to me after almost every other message. On top of that, the responses I was receiving felt impersonal and as if my situation was being shoved into a general template of “support.” Needless to say, I didn’t find that I was being given any of the proper resources or help.
The one time I did reach out to MySSP in a time of crisis, I was once again left waiting. To be fair, I do understand that there can be a heavy load of users on the app at once with a potentially lower ratio of counsellors, but a mental health crisis should be enough grounds to receive more immediate support. Furthermore, I was merely connected to a counsellor for ongoing support and was booked a phone session instead of being thoroughly supported and talked to. Additionally, the session they booked me was scheduled in the next month — no resources were given or advice for some tools I could use until that session.
At least, in this situation I was given a referral to some support, but I shouldn’t have to be in a crisis situation to receive it. If SFU is going to provide students with mental health services and if the cost of this is included in tuition fees, it only makes sense that these services are able to provide the proper support (e.g, reliability, resources, and adequate referral according to specific needs).
To be honest, the phone session I got through Morneau Shepell was nothing less than a disappointment. The counsellor bombarded me with overly personal questions all within the first half-hour, was condescending, and pushed medical decisions onto me before even getting to know me or the extent of my situation. If anything, I got the impression that I was being rushed into dealing with my mental health issues, so that I could “get back on my feet.” Considering the company is an HR service for several workplaces, this seemed like the standard capitalistic ideal for re-grouping workers to make them profitable again.
While the app itself has its issues, this wouldn’t be as big of a concern if MySSP wasn’t one of the major mental health services offered by SFU. Speaking from my experience alone, increased funding towards improving the already existing counselling services both on-campus and now virtually is much more beneficial than an app that is run by an HR company. MySSP does not have the capability to provide long-term support, even with the ongoing sessions they offer, and its virtual limitations of messaging cannot replace in-person or video chat counselling.
For the students who do not have the proper extended health plan or money to be able to afford to see a therapist, SFU’s mental health services may be their initial and only resort for help. In a stressful environment like a university, particularly during these confusing times, MySSP is simply not enough.