Answering questions about our university's counselling and mental health services

Shelly Totino


Let’s be real – balancing school, life and everything in between can be overwhelming and tough. I’ve been there, and I’ve struggled with stress, anxiety and even depression. I know that mental health has a stigma attached to it that it shouldn’t and because of that, sometimes it’s hard to reach out and ask for help.

I sat down with Jarek Baginski, Student Mental Health Manager with Ontario Tech's Student Mental Health Services, to get some answers to the questions you may be too nervous to ask.

I feel like I need to talk to someone. Where do I start?

You can start by visiting the Mental Health Services website, pick up a brochure in U5, email the student lifeline at or even call at 905.721.3392.

How do I know if I need counselling?

Knowing whether or not you need counselling can be tough. But, there are a few indicators. You may need to seek couselling if: 

  • You are experiencing internal discomfort.
  • You have feelings of sadness or irritability.
  • You have trouble concentrating or sleeping.
  • You are experiencing aches and pains or tiredness.
  • You find it difficult relating to friends.
  • Things that used to bring you joy no longer do.
  • You are experiencing troubling thoughts.
  • You are prone to panicking, catastrophizing or feeling vulnerable.

Everyone is different though, and if you feel that you’re having trouble coping or just want someone to talk to, counselling can help.

11007742_452853421536806_3081303324002406378_nHow do I make an appointment?

You can make an appointment by visiting Student Mental Health Services in U5 or by emailing or calling the student life line.

Is counselling free?

Free and fully confidential.

So no one else will have access to my file?

Student files are kept confidential in a fully secure and locked space. Students only have one file and you are welcome to access it at any time. Counsellors take notes (with your permission) and will write down some suggestions or their own observations. No one has access to these files outside of Mental Health Services.

Okay, I’ve made an appointment. What happens now?

At your first appointment you will go through the intake process, which includes filling out an intake form and reading over the confidentiality agreement. Your intake form will ask for demographical and student data, such as your student number and personal information, and the confidentiality agreement will outline the rights you have as a student to confidential and safe counselling.

Your counsellor will also ask some questions to get a sense of what you’re seeking help for and recommend the best services to meet your needs, whether that be another counselling appointment or referral to a university service or community partner.

What will we talk about in my appointment?

This varies based on student needs and experiences. In your appointment your counsellor will ask qualifying questions to help you identify your needs and risks. They will then establish therapeutic goals to work towards.

Are appointments recurring? How many do I get?

Sometimes students only need one appointment. Counsellors will help you de-escalate whatever issue you are having and provide mindful tips on how to cope with that problem or problems like it in the future. Sometimes students come back on a weekly or monthly basis, and others may be referred to community partners or university services like the Career Centre, Student Accessibility Services or Outreach Services.

I don’t feel like there’s a “click” with my counsellor. What do I do?

Part of your informed consent includes acknowledgment that counselling is about a trusting relationship between two people with a focus on the student and not the therapist. Therefore, your needs always come first. Student Mental Health Services has a small but versatile team including male and female counsellors, as well as more mature counsellors and younger ones who are closer to student age groups. It is your right to request a different counsellor at any time and for any reason.

How long should I be accessing counselling for?

This depends on your needs and risk level. Student Mental Health Services is mandated to provide students with brief therapy, which includes up to five sessions. However, you would never be turned away if you were in need of more sessions.

Can a counsellor prescribe me medication?

No, all counselling through Student Mental Health Services includes talk therapy, but if your counsellor believes you require medication you will be referred to a community partner who can fully assess your needs and provide medication if they determine you need it.

What’s the difference between a counsellor, a psychotherapist and a psychologist psychiatrist? Who would I be meeting with?

Student Mental Health Services has counsellors and psychotherapists.

A psychotherapist is someone who is involved in providing talk therapy. A counsellor has a degree in social work, occupational therapy work or counselling psychology and also provides talk therapy.

You may be referred to a community partner such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in psychiatry. They can diagnose and prescribe medication. A psychologist is a psychotherapist who has formal education in clinical developmental psychology.

I’m just a little bit stressed out but I don’t want to see a counsellor – what can I do instead?

Support lines are available to you if you ever want to talk to someone. Good2Talk is designed specifically for post-secondary students and is offered 24/7 and all year long. You can call them at 1.866.925.5454. Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline is another support line run by the Ministry of Health. You can reach them at 1.866.531.2600.

If you don’t want to talk to someone, you can check out some tips on coping with stress with Student Accessibility Services.

Even if you feel that you don’t want formal counselling, Student Mental Health Services can still point you in the right direction for whatever resources might help you cope with whatever you’re dealing with.

My friend seems really stressed out with school and has been acting kind of weird lately, how can I mention to them that Student Mental Health Services can help?

The best way to help your friend is to normalize that we all feel stressed at some point and ensure that they don’t have to struggle alone. The university is proud to support students in need and proud to ensure that proper services are available to them.

While the stigma attached to mental health has slowly been fading thanks to awesome campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk day and Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s still scary finding a way to reach out. But just as Jarek said to me at the end of our chat, Student Mental Health Services is there to help and you’ll never be judged or made to feel uncomfortable. After all, when you break your leg, you don’t continue to walk on it alone.

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