Counselling services hit or miss for Langara students

Some are disappointed with long wait times and quality of counselling sessions

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By Clarissa Kurniawan

This story has been updated to include comments from Shelly-Ann Rampersad, William Masih and Peter Walsh.

As mental health issues have worsened during the pandemic, Langara College students are increasingly turning to the school’s free counselling sessions. Some are saying the quantity and quality of the services are not meeting expectations.

Fephi Kagan Dumlu, a second-year computer science student at Langara, was struggling with anxiety during his first year and decided to see a school counsellor.  His first experience did not go very well.

“Honestly, it felt like they didn’t really care about it,” Dumlu said. “They didn’t do much progress on my following session.”

Despite his bad experience, Dumlu was able to connect with a different Langara counsellor and has since joined a group session. His second time around proved to be more helpful.

A recent Statistics Canada report, prior to COVID-19, said youth aged 15 to 24 were already the least likely to report excellent or very good mental health. In July 2020 they reported the greatest decline in mental health since before the pandemic from 40 per cent down to 60 per cent.

One Langara physics student, who asked not to be identified due to the stigma, said that although her experiences with the Langara counsellors were pleasant, the department is in much need of extra help.

“The Langara counselling services are hugely overbooked. You can only schedule a month later even if you are in a mental emergency. They need a larger department and a bigger staff,” she said.

An article published by The Voice in 2017 outlined some of the challenges facing the counselling department pre-pandemic but despite its efforts, the department appears to be tackling many of the same challenges today.

Langara’s counselling department chair Kerri Janota said although the department is making efforts to streamline the counselling services, wait times are inevitable due to the increased demand.

“While we have worked tirelessly to diversify our services and expand our team to better meet the growing demand for appointments, there are however high demand times where students may experience wait times to see a counsellor,” Janota said.

To provide quicker access to counselling, Langara has recently created a waitlist system that provides students with community resources and referrals while they wait to see a counsellor. It is also offering help for a more diverse range of issues.

“Our team is committed to ongoing professional development and training on a number of important topics, including Indigenous cultural safety training, anti-racism learning pods, LGBTQ+ support service provision, and various other topics of justice, equity diversity and inclusion,” Janota said.

Different counselling options on the rise

Recent surges in demand for mental health help have inspired virtual counselling apps such as Wellin5 and Maple, which allow young adults to connect with therapists.

According to Shelly-Ann Rampersad, vice president of clinical operations at Maple, there has been an over 400 per cent increase in Maple users since the start of the pandemic.

“We see that patients are able to access care from the comfort of home, on their own schedule, which makes online therapy a great choice for many Canadians,” Rampersad said.

William Masih, CEO of Wellin5, said “Millennials and Gen-Z’s are the early adopters for online counselling so far because they are already engaged with social media and technology to stay in touch with their relatives.”

Langara will also soon offer the Peer Wellness Support Program to be run by student volunteers in January.

“The volunteers can support students in finding resources, learning resiliency strategies, and figuring out their next steps to enhance their own well-being,” said Peter Walsh, Langara’s mental health initiatives consultant.

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