We need to increase mental health coverage for post-secondary students

Short-term therapy can take up to 16 expensive sessions to be beneficial



Last month, the University of British Columbia’s student association, the Alma Mater Society, increased their coverage for mental health services for students from $1,000 to $1,500 per policy year. The additional coverage comes a year after the AMS increased it from $500 to $1,000. 

Currently, at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, our Kwantlen Student Association’s extended health plan offers up to $500 of coverage for mental health practitioners, such as registered psychologists or registered clinical counselors. 

The problem is that this plan covers 80 per cent to an overall maximum of $500 per policy year, and the coverage includes a combination of mental health practitioners, social workers, speech therapists, and psychological testing practitioners. The coverage is extremely limited, as most of these services require more than one appointment to be beneficial, and some students require more than one of these services at a time.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital, short-term psychotherapy can take up to 16 sessions dealing with “immediate issues” or “more longstanding complex issues.” Psychotherapy models include cognitive-behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, solution-focused therapy, and dialectical therapy.

Last year, the BC Psychological Association increased their recommended rates from $215 per session to $225 per session. The KSA plan only covers 80 per cent of each appointment and up to $500 per year. So students get refunded $180, but the coverage quickly runs out after only two psychologist appointments. 

The KSA has not updated their extended health plan since 2017, when they increased the coverage to the current maximum of $500 per policy year. At the time, that acknowledgement of the need for mental health coverage was a major milestone. Still, now it feels forgotten in a time when students especially need the help in a global pandemic that both impacts their present and future. 

The British Columbia Institute for Technology has similar coverage to the KSA’s plan, with a small difference. While they also cover 80 per cent per appointment, their maximum is up to $400 per year and per practitioner. This way, students have separate coverage for two different practitioners, rather than the combined coverage to split between several. 

While up to $400 still isn’t enough to ensure that students can pay for every session they might need, separating the coverage to individual practitioners is a better way to ensure students have health coverage for the different services as required.

Simon Fraser University and the University of the Fraser Valley have the same mental health coverage we do through the KSA’s plan. 

In 2019, the National College Health Assessment surveyed students at Canadian post-secondary institutions and found that almost 70 per cent experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the last 12 months, and 24 per cent reported depression as a factor affecting their academic performance. 

Post-secondary students have struggled with their mental health well before the pandemic. With COVID-19 raging on and students having to return to campus amidst the uncertainty of it all and facing our unknown futures, we need better mental health support now more than ever. It’s time for the rest of our student associations to recognize that as post-secondary institutions return to campus.