By: Meera Eragoda, Editor-in-Chief
In 2021, UBC’s student society, the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS), increased their mental health benefits from $500 to $1,000. Earlier this year, they increased them again to $1,500 through use of their Health and Dental Reserve Fund. So why hasn’t the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), who are responsible for administering SFU’s Studentcare program, done the same?
The AMS reviews their health and dental plan yearly to see what parts of the plan “students use most and where more coverage is needed,” fueling their decision for the latest increase. It’s unclear whether the SFSS does the same, as there is no easily accessible information that confirms this. According to the 2019–20 finance report, the SFSS has an additional $300,000 surplus, with surpluses having increased over the past five years.
It’s been well established that due to the pandemic, mental health has suffered among post-secondary students. There are currently many barriers to accessing mental health support, but one of the biggest ones is cost. Even with the discount of choosing a therapist off the Studentcare Psychology Network, the starting price is $130 for a 50-minute session (a $30 discount). Studentcare covers 80% of this cost, allowing for reimbursement up to $500 per year — equivalent to four sessions.
While this may be enough to help students through a bad day at work, exam season, or social troubles, for others this isn’t enough. A more sustained approach to mental health might require building up a relationship with a therapist, working through trauma, or needing time to find the type of therapy and therapist that works.
The SFSS successfully pushed for SFU’s Health & Counselling services to hire Black and Indigenous counsellors. However, there are no counsellors specifically trained to help trans, non-binary, or gender-diverse students; sometimes resulting in harm to students seeking help. Students may also want to find counsellors who are culturally or religiously competent, or who speak a language other than English. Any of this may motivate students to look for counselling outside of what SFU — or the Studentcare Psychology Network — has to offer, potentially increasing the cost of a session.
Whether students are looking for a counsellor within the Studentcare network or outside of it, $500 is a paltry amount of coverage given the current cost of counselling. Until mental health is publically funded, however, students are left accepting a minimal amount of sessions with therapists who may not even be the right fit for them. Under the circumstances, it’s understandable how some students might not choose to pursue counselling at all.
Of course, funding is more complicated than it seems. As reflected in the health and dental plan referendum question to increase fees, costs and usage are rising, with the biggest driver being dental. As of the 2019–20 VP Finance Report (the most recent report available), the SFSS has been covering a $700,000 deficit out of their Health Plan reserve fund.
But this seems to be more than an issue of just administrative finances. The SFSS has proven they will find the money when necessary, as seen by their increased funding of other equity projects and Council stipends.
Perhaps what is needed is the $30 student fee increase that failed to pass in the referendum. If this is the case, the SFSS needs to undertake a better public outreach campaign to educate students on how the health plan benefits them. If accessing mental health care is a priority for the SFSS, they should follow in the footsteps of the AMS and increase mental health coverage.