24/7 mental health service coming to Concordia

Empower Me will be free to use for all undergraduates starting in February

A new 24-hour mental health service will provide Concordia undergraduate students with guidance on everything from addiction, to dating, to finances.

At a regular council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) approved the adoption of the Empower Me program, a free service for undergraduate students that is offered by the CSU’s insurance provider, Studentcare.

When the service launches on Feb. 1, counsellors will be available 24/7 and can be reached in person, by phone, or over the internet, according to a pamphlet advertising the service. Students may book as many sessions with a counsellor as they want. “This multi-lingual, culturally sensitive, and gender and faith-inclusive service is built around a short-term, solution-focused counselling model,” the pamphlet reads. CSU Finance Coordinator John Hutton explained that the services are labelled “short-term” since students won’t use it after they graduate.

The service will compliment those offered through Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services. The pamphlet states that “on-campus staff can refer students to Empower Me professionals and share appropriate information (within the bounds of strict confidentiality policies).”

Currently, the school provides free sessions with counsellors and psychotherapists, as well as free workshops on topics such as insomnia, stress, and self-confidence. However, the office’s website lists just 14 mental health professionals, including two interns, for more than 45,000 students. Psychological services are in high demand at Concordia. In the 2017-18 academic year, Concordia undergraduates filed more extended health care claims for psychologists, at a higher cost to the insurance plan, than for any other service, except for prescription drugs, according to a report provided to the CSU by Studentcare. In addition, the nearly 2,000 claims filed for psychologists represent a roughly 15 per cent increase over the previous academic year.

“Demand for mental-health services has risen as our community grows larger,” said university spokesperson Fiona Downey. She said the university is still re-evaluating its mental health resources. “We have begun by looking at how to effectively use existing resources and look at opportunities to contribute resources from outside the university.”

“We are re-examining how we deliver care, and introducing new programs such as the Zen Den, and, by next Fall, faculty-embedded wellness teams,” said Downey.

Under the CSU’s current contract with Studentcare, members are entitled to coverage of $75 per session and $800 per year for counselling outside Concordia. While the union had the option to increase this coverage, Hutton said this plan would have cost at least $10 per student. Empower Me will only cost $4.20 per student. The union will absorb the cost of the program using revenue from the health plan. All non-international undergraduate students taking more than three credits are automatically covered under the plan.

Hutton said the new plan will not immediately affect insurance premiums for students, since these premiums are already set in the CSU’s contract with Studentcare. If the union continues with its current health insurance model for the foreseeable future, premiums will depend on how the CSU renegotiates its contract with Studentcare. If the union succeeds in transitioning to a self-funded insurance model, as it has been planning to do for years, Hutton said the CSU will likely be able to offer lower premiums for students.

“The reason we have a health plan to begin with is because there are gaps in the healthcare system, both at the university level, and at the provincial and federal level,” said Hutton. “Why do we have to beg university administrators for mental health care? Hopefully, in 50 years, when we look back at the gains we’ve made in [mental health care], we’ll talk about today as the dark ages.”

Graphic by Ana Bilokin.

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