In 2015, Jaime Warren was rushed by ambulance to Royal Inland Hospital (RIH) where she stayed for a week. She was suffering from anxiety and depression and needed help.
Warren felt alone and scared and said she was passed between doctors and nurses. She missed classes and midterms at Thompson Rivers University, but at the time, school was the last thing on her mind.
When Warren returned to TRU, she thought getting help would be simple. The staff at RIH told her the university had great supports for mental health, but when she approached counselling about getting help, she was surprised to learn how little they could do for her.
Her anxiety made contacting professors on her own nearly impossible, and she feels that the TRU counselor she was seeing didn’t follow through on the offer to help.
“It felt like she was trying to get rid of me,” Warren said of how she was treated by a TRU counsellor during an appointment.
“I withdrew because I was left to talk to teachers on my own. With help, I would have had more leeway. I purposely took the path of least resistance, out of fear of being denied extra help and time periods.”
Waiting for care
Warren was referred to a private counsellor, for which she had to wait four months.
Tara Mochizuki, an Interior Health spokesperson, said wait times vary for different services, but appointments for a private session with a counsellor or psychiatrist can take months.
Waits at Kamloops Mental Health and Substance Use can be even longer for those who cannot access care privately.
An estimated 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and wait times have been a challenge across the country.
“I don’t think Kamloops is any different than anywhere else,” she said. She added that group-based services in the city may actually make access easier than elsewhere.
For TRU students, accessing university-based counselling takes less time, said Cliff Robinson, co-chair of the TRU counselling and academic support department.
“I’ve been here 10 years, and the biggest wait I’ve ever seen is two weeks,” Robinson said.
Alone in a foreign place
The challenge greater than the wait time for students like Warren is managing care alone during a time in life when stress is already high.
The university works with various community services, including Mental Health, where students with certain or severe issues can be referred for further help. But, after a referral between agencies, patients are on their own to follow through.
“There is a self-management component of this too,” Mochizuki said.
“In all parts of health care we’re looking to the patient to really guide their health care, and I recognize that that’s sometimes difficult for some folks.”
Warren said she struggled while moving from departments in the hospital, to the school, to private care.
“I was forced to try and stand up for myself and believe in myself at a point in my life where that was really difficult,” she said. “It was really difficult to try and motivate myself to fix my situation when my mind was telling me that I’m not good enough to succeed, and that I don’t matter enough to become something.”
Mochizuki agreed it can be challenging for patients to access the care they need.
“I think that our system, regardless of how much work we do to try and make it seem seamless, is cumbersome. And I think it’s confusing for people. Especially when you’re in a mental health or substance abuse crisis, you’re suffering…that’s a particularly challenging time in your life. So to navigate through any system, regardless of how simple we try to make it, is challenging.“
Warren said she doesn’t blame the school for her withdrawal, though she does think she would still be attending classes had she had more support. She is now receiving care and feels much better than before, but she wants to draw attention to the challenges faced in the mental health system.
“I was so angry about it, and didn’t want to see it happen to anyone else,” she said. “The thought of putting my experience out there to let it be judged on whether or not it’s an actual problem was way too scary. But I did, and hopefully it helps at least some people.”