University of Waterloo student association expands mental health coverage

Students at the University of Waterloo will start the winter term with expanded options for mental health care.

Students can get more care under health plan, access 24/7/365 helpline

Students at the University of Waterloo can now call a 24/7 helpline called EmpowerMe to get connected with counselling services. (CBC)

Students at the University of Waterloo will start the winter term with expanded options for mental health care.

Changes to the student health plan include a doubling of coverage limits for mental health services to 80 per cent coverage up to a total of $800 a calendar year. That's up from $400 a year under the previous version of the health plan.

The new plan also does away with a previous requirement to seek a doctor's referral in order to have psychological services covered. Students can seek help from psychotherapists, clinical counsellors, psychologists and registered social workers.  

Seneca Velling, a vice-president with the undergraduate student association, said coverage under the previous version of the plan forced some students to pay for mental health care out of pocket.  

"Now with these changes, the plan can support students in the way that it needs to," said Velling.

New helpline available

Also on offer this term is a new, 24/7/365 helpline called EmpowerMe. The help line, which is already offered at Queen's University, is modeled after the kind of employee assistance line offered to government employees.

Students who call the helpline can get in touch with a variety of professionals, from psychologists to life coaches and financial advisors. Support is offered in more than 200 languages, Velling said.  

"It operates on an uncapped model to ensure that students receive as much care as they need," Velling said.

The cost of the student health plan will remain constant for the winter term but is expected to increase in the fall by less than five dollars, Velling said. 

The changes follow recommendations made by an advisory committee set up in the wake of two student deaths by suicide in 2017.

Velling said he believes the university is making a good faith effort to improve the mental health services available, and hopes that students will make use of what's on offer.

"My hope is that students will know where to go when they need help, and also be willing to ask," he said.