Mental health supports suffering as Carleton strike continues, student says

A Carleton University student says temporary mental health supports put in place while counsellors are out on strike aren't good enough, and wants mental health services on campus to be deemed essential.

Doctors at university's main clinic taking over 'limited' mental health counselling appointments

Pickets pose near the Carleton University sign on Bronson Avenue on Monday, the first day of a strike by hundreds of university support workers. One student says the temporary supports offered while mental health counsellors are on strike aren't good enough. (Christian MIlette/Radio-Canada)

A Carleton University student says temporary mental health supports put in place while counsellors are out on strike aren't good enough, and wants mental health services on campus to be deemed essential.

The second-year student, who lives in residence, saw one of a handful of residence counsellors from January to April 2017, then started up again in November. Her last appointment with him was in February, and an appointment that had been booked for next week was cancelled due to the strike.

She spoke with CBC on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the student housing department.

Carleton's Department of Housing and Residence Life Services sent an email to her and other students, saying residence counselling appointments and drop-in services are cancelled during the strike. Instead, students are directed to "limited" health and counselling appointments with doctors at the main clinic at the Carleton Technology and Training Centre.

For emergencies, students in residence are asked to call the Department of University Safety, or, if the situation is urgent, to contact the on-call residence manager.

'Doctors having to scramble'

She said she managed to get an appointment for next week with a part-time general practice psychotherapist because she's on medication after a depressive episode and her changing dose needs to be monitored.

But for students needing cognitive therapy, she suspects booking one of a limited number of appointments will be more difficult.

"[Students have] paid into these services that allow them to speak to a counsellor and now that most of the counsellors are on strike, it's difficult for everyone to book appointments with the main health clinic, because honestly there's not enough services to go around," she said.

"They're all qualified to talk about mental illness and mental health, but with a counsellor it's different than a doctor.... Providing emergency care and providing services that a doctor would is extremely different than having experienced mental health training and time in the field," she said.

"So I think that a lot of this is difficult for students that need counselling, and need that mental health support."

'There are options,' Carleton says

In an emailed statement Thursday morning, Carleton said options are available for students who can't see their regular counsellors.

"There are options for students who are not able to see their regular counsellor. Walk-in appointments are available each day on a first-come, first-served basis, along with a number of community counselling services in Ottawa. In situations where counselling appointments had to be cancelled, students have been advised of these options," the statement reads.

"In addition, our many other student service and support offices on campus remain open and operational to provide a wide variety of support to students during this difficult time. We remain committed to proactively supporting our students as their academics and well-being are our highest priority."

The woman said it's not enough.

"I think that the university needs to be more proactive if they're going to take a positive mental health stance," she said. "Actions speak louder than words."

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