Following months of frustration with Queen’s University’s inaction on the student body’s need for higher-quality, more consistent mental health support, Matilda Eklund, a fourth year student, has taken to Overheard at Queen’s about her mental health struggles in hopes it will prompt institutional changes within the administration.
Eklund said that after several negative experiences trying to get help through Student Wellness Services and witnessing friends go through the same thing, she has reached a “breaking point.”
“As someone with a chronic illness, I’ve had several terrible experiences over the years and was just sort of accustomed to it,” wrote Eklund to YGK News. “But I reached a real breaking point this year watching friends try to deal with this terrible system who didn’t have my experience getting this kind of care, and who were getting completely discouraged from reaching out again despite needing that help,”
Eklund has since created an anonymous form that allows students to anonymously share any negative experiences with the University’s mental health services. Eklund intends to relay these testimonies to administration officials.
“We pay fees to the University for this service, and so we do have a right to demand results from it,” Eklund said.
Within 24 hours of releasing the form, Eklund received over 20 form submissions and an overwhelming number of direct messages.
Criticism emerges about university booking system
Eklund’s main criticism of the University’s mental health services is the appointment-booking system.
“People [are] being told they can only book same day crisis appointments (an insanely inaccessible system, especially for the chronically mentally ill), others being told they can only book months in advance,” Eklund told YGK News.
Eklund also seeks more accessible psychiatry assistance and asserts that general practitioners need sensitivity training.
Based on the responses Eklund has received thus far, four students have withdrawn from Queen’s over experiences with the University’s mental health services.
“People hear these different things from different people, so they keep being rejected for different reasons.” Eklund said. “One girl was refused a crisis appointment until 2 months away while suicidal.”
While Eklund has strong criticisms of Queen’s mental health services, she told YGK News that she has had real help from counsellors and wouldn’t know where she’d be had she not received their help.
Eklund also admits that she has not tried Empower Me, a program endorsed by Student Wellness Services that confidentially connects students with qualified counsellors, consultants, and life coaches.
When asked about the changes she seeks, Eklund told YGK News that she unequivocally `believes the appointment-booking system needs improvement.
“I think they need to stop with same day booking, and reduce that service to crisis appointments,” Eklund said/wrote. “They should have dedicated counsellors for same day booking. If they don’t have enough resources at the moment to book people in, they need to hire more counsellors. Clearly there is a demand for that.”
“I, and others, have had issues getting referrals to psychiatry as [general practitioners] were very difficult to deal with, or even downright traumatic,” added Eklund.
While Queen’s is seeing unprecedented demand for mental health services due to the effects of COVID-19, this isn’t the first time that the institution’s mental health services have been scrutinized.
In 2010, the University came under fire after Jack Windeler and three other students committed suicide. At the time, Jack Windeler was a first-year student living in residence.
“For whatever reasons, Jack was unable to reach out for the help he needed,” the Jack.org website states.
Eklund expressed some hope that things will improve following an appointment with Cynthia Gibney, executive director of Student Wellness Services. However, Eklund calls the institution’s response a “mixed bag.”
“I have a friend who was transferred to a fantastic intake worker who took the time to hear her case and assign her to a suitable counsellor, and I’ve had other friends who called and never heard back,” Eklund said.
Eklund’s experiences have been echoed by hundreds on Reddit
Eklund is not alone, similar experiences have been echoed by hundreds on reddit over the past six months.
Several students have used Reddit as a means to express their frustration with the institutions mental health services. “I went through Empower Me and had a horrible experience. Overall, Queen’s mental health support sucks,” one Reddit user said. The user, who is a commerce student said that they tried connecting with departmental counsellors following the their post, but that they would not receive an appointment for another month.
Several students have also used Reddit as a means to cope with depression and suicide. First year students’ posts are among the most frequent posts in the subreddit. One international student in particular described how she’s planning to major in Psychology next year but has lost all hope due to the loneliness she is feeling. In November alone, over 150 sought mental health support from Reddit.
As some of the foundational cracks in university mental health systems have been exposed, some scholars are suggesting that 2021 could be the year to improve mental health in Academia. While it’s become common to hear the refrains “It’s okay, no one else is productive either, it’s been hard on everyone,” and “It’s okay, 2021 will be better,” Dr. David Kent argues that we shouldn’t accept this response nor is it okay.
“Whilst COVID-19 has shed a light on some particularly dramatic human stories, these stories (and the namby-pamby responses) are not unique to 2020, but have been bouncing around academic science for decades,” Dr. David Kent, principal investigator at York Biomedical Research Institute wrote to University Affairs. “We need to do better and I hope that we can use 2021 to initiate some real change in how we support and develop our scientific workforce for the future.”
YGK News sought comment from Cynthia Gibney, executive director of Student Wellness Services, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.