Stronger than Stigma’s (STS) emphasis of peer-to-peer support intends on accommodating every student’s mental health needs
Concordia University’s limited staffing of the Counselling and Psychological Services (CPS) grants priority assistance to students in mental health crises, directing others towards outside psychological services. Consequently, students often face greater financial restraints and longer waiting periods.
As of Nov. 22, Brittany Dohmen-Clermont, a service assistant and secretary for CPS, stated that the school has a total of 11 active psychologists: eight at the Sir George Williams Campus and three at the Loyola Campus.
Concordia has a student body of over 51,250 students. The low number of professionals able to offer psychiatric assistance has sparked growing concerns.
The Concordian spoke with Marieke Glorieux-Stryckman, a first-year journalism major who, despite being qualified for and enrolled in CPS, still faces major accommodation issues. She and many other students are attending student-run mental health club events to fulfill their missing needs.
Glorieux-Stryckman referred to the COVID-19 outbreak as a time of emotional distress for many.
“I was grieving the entire pandemic. I was grieving the time that I had lost, the trips I didn’t take, the friends I didn’t hang out with, the things I didn’t learn,” she expressed.
Undergoing the hardships that derived from the pandemic while fighting the nerves of being a first-year university student, Glorieux-Stryckman stated that seeking therapy at the University’s CPS hadn’t been a question for her. Yet it wasn’t as easy as she anticipated.
On Sept. 9. at 9:15 a.m., she failed to book a triage appointment in time. After only 15 minutes of the desk opening its request for triage appointments, it was full. “That was kind of discouraging for me… that’s actually usually how it goes, it’s hard to even get a triage appointment,” said Glorieux-Stryckman.
Dohment-Clermont stated, “It can take up to two weeks for the triage appointment — the first appointment, it is first come first serve. Those who repeatedly ask, we do take note, and we do take note of those in crisis, and they do receive it.” Triage appointment requests open Fridays at 9 a.m. and are sent by email to office rooms, GM-300 or AD-121. [email protected]
The following week, Glorieux-Stryckman scrambled to ensure her alarm had been set for 9 a.m. and prepared a draft email beforehand. On Sept. 16, she secured her appointment in relief, which took place shortly after.
“One of the things that kind of freaked me out at my triage appointment was that before we started, the therapist told me ‘Oh by the way, if we see that you don’t really qualify, we might refer you to other services outside of Concordia,’” stated Glorieux-Stryckman. This appeared to go against the financial advantages of seeking therapy on campus.
Unlike outside services, the CPS is covered by students’ health insurance tuition, which on average costs $123.33 per semester for full-time students. The CPS’ service agreement states: “The number and frequency of these appointments will depend on the client’s tailored plan for therapy.”
Given the CPS’ priority assistance to students in crisis, Glorieux-Stryckman reluctantly stated, “I’m really happy I got it but that means I’m really unwell.”
Claire Dyment, a Concordia student and president of Stronger Than Stigma (STS), the University’s undergraduate mental health club, shares similar experiences to those of Glorieux-Strykman’s. STS caters to a larger student body through its implementation of various events and resources.
Glorieux-Stryckman was told she’d receive an appointment once every other week. Instead, she has had three appointments canceled in a row without receiving proper notice or accommodations by the CPS.
Glorieux-Stryckman began her sessions in early October and has received only 5 therapy sessions as of December 8. Considering the severity of her needs, she states that this inconsistency is lacking effectiveness.
Claire Dyment, a fourth-year psychology major, refers to her first-year stay at the campus’ Grey Nuns Residence, after moving from her hometown in Ottawa.
She spoke about the distress she endured in the fall of 2019, as a first-year student struggling to adapt to her new lifestyle, while undergoing the student residency’s pandemic safety measures.
“I was having a hard time adapting to resident life,” said Dyment. Unimaginably, she was now living in “a weird micro society of everyone in these little rooms.”
Dyment became significantly limited to socializing and exploring her new student-life, worsening the state of her anxiety.
Luckily enough, the residence provided a school adjustment advisor, in support of newly-arrived students who were struggling with adaptation issues. Dyment jumped on the opportunity to book an appointment, where she unraveled her stressors.
Despite exchanging a heartfelt encounter with the advisor, she felt taken aback by one of their statements.
“From our 30-minute conversation, I can tell you are not in maximum crisis and because of that, I’m not even going to direct you to mental health services because you won’t get in. You should go private.”
“From the get-go, I was so grateful that the residence had this service and then it was a halt, like [they] will give you a bite, but you can’t have the whole sandwich,” said Dyment.
Dyment was directed to PsyMontréal, a psychological therapy service offered to CU student members of StudentCare, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) health care insurance plan. Under this plan, students pay $185, which allows them to claim up to $750 per policy year for psychiatric services, paying between $120 to $130 a therapy session. On average, students are only covered up to six sessions a year and often still sit on a lengthy waitlist.
Shortly after Dyment sought help at the residence’s advisor, Quebec’s COVID-19 cases had exponentially risen. The residence responded to the situation by giving the students “four days’ notice to vacate residence. It was really badly managed,” said Dyment.
This initiated an instant worry for Dyment. She, along with the other student-residents, felt pressured to not only respect the limited time frame to vacate, but to find their means of transport to do so. “Luckily, my parents were able to come pick me up in their car. But, it was definitely stressful,” stated Dyment.
After the pandemic Dyment’s battles with anxiety haven’t stopped her from pursuing her passion for studying psychology and achieving the presidential role at STS this year. STS members consist of nine anti-stigma mental health advocate students while additionally having volunteer staff ready to help. Their open-membership platform offers students a safe place to share without fear of judgment.
Dyment is one of many students who have obtained greater benefit from peer-to-peer mental health support than those from school’s services. “This is something that makes me feel good, it makes me feel motivated, it makes me feel connected to my peers,” said Dyment.
STS’ events strive to release students’ mental health stressors by offering a safe space on campus. The club recently hosted their annual Wine and Paint Night on Nov. 2, at Concordia’s Reggie’s Bar. The event charged a $15 entrance fee, which covered all painting supplies, food, and beverages.
Glorieux-Stryckman was one of 72 students to attend the event. At this time, she had missed out on three CPS therapy sessions, and this gathering alleviated a period of discouragement for her.
“She was really making a place for me,” said Glorieux-Stryckman, referring to Dyment’s welcoming demeanor. “It was so nice to know that these people were willing to support students when they needed it.”
“I felt like I could give my energy to hopefully try and make an impact for others,” said Dyment. The STS president hopes to provide this feeling of reassurance to other students in situations similar to Glorieux-Stryckman’s.
Claire Dyment, along with her fellow STS members, head back to sharing their monthly celebratory cheers after completing yet another successful mental health event.