Mental healthcare professionals struggle to meet demand to help students during pandemic

MENTAL HEALTH

As the pandemic continues, some mental healthcare workers are concerned about the impact it's having on CEGEP and university students - they're seeing a continued spike in requests for help.

"I think it's getting worse," said psychologist Dr. Perry Adler, director of the teenage health unit at the Herzl Family Practice Center. He said he and his colleagues are overbooked and having a hard time meeting demand for help.

"As time goes on, people are just having greater and greater difficulty in dealing with the continued social isolation."

Julia Caddy, mental health commissioner for the Student Society of McGill University, said students who were seeking virtual counselling last fall would normally wait anywhere from five minutes to half an hour but due to demand, they were waiting about three hours to speak to someone.

"You're putting the stress of the pandemic with the increasing needs and expectations of a highly competitive school and the result is a frightening number of students who don't know where to go or what to do," said Caddy.

"They don't necessarily have their family to be with, or they might have an unsupportive family. Many are without roommates they may not know or they might not be uncomfortable with or (they're) living on their own."

Adler said socializing is extremely important for CEGEP and university students.

"This is where they really law down the roots of their social connections, their friendships - and as time goes on, more and more importantly - romantic relationships. And all of that is being handicapped so you're getting a lot of kids feeling very lonely and it's producing anxiety and mood problems, depressions," said Adler.

"It's very bad for the young people."

Between May and December last year, UQAM reports 626 requests for psychological support compared with 600 during the same period in 2019. The numbers spiked between May and September. McGill said it does not compile such data.

Universities such as UQAM and McGill offer virtual consultations as well as limited in-person sessions; McGill added new services since last spring including social media activities such as online meditation.

Adler said talking it out helps - if not with professionals then with family or friends:

"The evidence is powerful that these types of treatments work so you do not have to suffer and think that nothing can change - change is available."
 

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