Access to mental health resources is key to ensuring students receive a quality experience, achieve academic success and improve their overall well-being. The USC’s PurpleCARE health benefits plan strives to provide these necessary resources for undergraduate students.
Every Western University undergraduate student is automatically enrolled in PurpleCARE, which offers insurance coverage for various health-related needs. This includes $750 insured for mental health-related expenses such as seeing a therapist or social worker.
However, as elected University Students’ Council Councillors, we have heard from students repeatedly that $750 is insufficient to support the costs of counselling over a reasonably sustained period of time. We believe this $750 mental health insurance coverage needs to be increased to meet the needs of students.
The demand for better mental health resources is not a recent development, but the issue has certainly heightened as students grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating cost of living, as reported by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
While on-campus counselling supports do exist, students often report long wait times and a lack of long-term counselling options, forcing them to resort to off-campus options for their mental health concerns. An October 2022 Gazette article stated there was a “four-week wait [time] reported by students”, which is “nearly double the two-week waits reported in March” of 2022.
The cost of a single therapy session off-campus in Ontario ranges from $50 to $240, averaging $145 per session. Under the current PurpleCARE coverage, this only affords a student five sessions.
Therapists have long indicated that a minimum of six sessions is needed before individuals begin to feel the benefits of therapy; other sources say it may take up to six sessions just to determine if the therapist is the right fit for the individual. This means students could be using up more than the amount covered under PurpleCARE before they can even settle on a therapist suitable for them, let alone begin the healing process.
Students are often already financially burdened by tuition, rent, groceries and other costs of living — all of which are now exacerbated by high inflation. Unfortunately, when students must prioritize buying groceries for the week over therapy, mental health struggles only worsen over time.
Additionally, compared to other universities’ undergraduate mental health insurance coverage across Canada, Western is far from being a leader, with its $750 coverage ranking closer to the bottom.
This is why, as USC Councillors, we have spent the past few months addressing this concern and working to increase the amount covered under PurpleCARE without increasing the cost students pay for this healthcare plan. We have researched, spoken to mental health experts and, most importantly, heard directly from students about the ways PurpleCARE can be enhanced to better financially support the costs of counselling.
We summarized our findings in a report and distributed it to key decision-makers within the USC who can make this change for next year’s benefits plan. Our conclusion is to increase coverage by as much as financially possible; at minimum, the coverage should be raised to $1000, but increases to $1200, $1500 or higher is preferable and would go a long way in supporting students. For students facing mental health challenges, financial barriers to access support should not be one of their worries.
For this change to be made, the PurpleCARE Board of Trustees needs to vote to accept an increase in mental health-related coverage. We urge the board to vote for this proposed increase during their next meeting on May 16, 2023.
We know that students suffering from mental health challenges tend to perform worse academically, so ensuring that students are able to access the mental health support they need improves their quality of learning, student experience and general well-being.
For the USC, providing the optimal student experience is core to our identity — providing the financial support for students to access the best and broadest range of mental health services is part of guaranteeing that experience. Increasing the financial support for mental health costs under PurpleCARE will go a long way in helping students thrive and prosper at Western.
However, the proposed solution to improve accessibility in mental healthcare is provisional and only one temporary method in addressing a persisting large-scale issue. The fight for additional support does not end with an increase under PurpleCARE; Western and the USC will need to continuously work together to find long-term solutions to address mental health concerns.
Wen Bo is an Engineering councillor on the USC. Tiffany Lin is an Arts & Humanities councillor on the USC.
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