Changing with the times

In the act of balancing  school, relationships, and other personal obligations, the average university student is no stranger to stress.

We all have different ways of coping, but sometimes the combinations of different stresses and anxieties can feel unbearable.Recently, mental health has been subject to increased attention in our society, but responses to related issues are still in their infancy. Although the University of Toronto has some existing psychological well-being services, more initiatives are being established for students today in an active effort to improve mental health services and support on campus. 

Many students are familiar with the Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which offers short-term, face-to-face, individual-based counselling and psychiatric resources. Although CAPS offers student support on a variety of mental health–related issues, it is often criticized for its long wait times and consequent alleged inaccessibility.

However, a recent initiative has emerged offering a new form of psychological service on campus that may benefit students en masse — a branch service under CAPS called Counseline.

The idea of Counseline was developed based on input and feedback from the Health & Wellness Student Advisory Committee, which aims to provide students with wellness support across campus. Counseline was launched by the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work in collaboration with the University of Toronto Sexual and Gender Diversity Office.

Janine Robb, executive director of Health & Wellness at U of T, says that the program “provides another option for Faculty of Arts and Science undergraduate students to access online and/or in-person counselling.”

Similar to traditional CAPS counselling services, Counseline offers short sessions via email or live chat to address immediate issues students are facing. Counseline is available to students experiencing mental health issues including interpersonal difficulties, challenging relationships, anxiety, depression, and issues related to sexuality and sexual orientation.

“Counsellors are able to provide students with various techniques, tools and resources to help address students’ counselling goals and to make positive behavioural and emotional changes,” says Robb. She adds that a goal for Counseline is “providing broader access to services, [and] increased options for students wanting counselling.”

Although counselling is traditionally conducted in-person, it has increasingly developed an online presence. Individuals may prefer online counselling for various reasons — for example, many may find opening up in a face-to-face environment difficult and may find online interaction to be more conducive to expressing their concerns. On the other hand, some students may feel that this removes the human element of support and that it is challenging to develop trust with the invisible counsellor typing to them.

The main advantage of Counseline is the shorter wait times, making the service more accessible to a greater number of people; an online counselling service works well within the busy schedules of university students.

The reception of this initiative is not yet clear. Nonetheless, it does create an additional option for students looking for assistance coping with stress.

“Health & Wellness views mental health as a continuum from health to illness. There are many campus resources that will assist students in maintaining mental health wellness, including fitness and recreational facilities, healthy eating, meditation and student clubs, and a variety of health promotion programs and workshops. We encourage students to adopt a proactive and active approach to their mental health,” says Robb.