LinkMentalHealth, a website that connects people to therapists that fit their need, announces students can get help faster and skip over wait times for free.
LinkMentalHealth, an ICUBE start up that launched in June 2018, currently has a platform of over 100 therapists. Radwan Al-Nachawati, co-founder of LinkMentalHealth and ICUBE member at UTM, sat with The Medium to talk about the website.
“The idea [for LinkMentalHealth] started when I was in university,” said Al-Nachawati. “I was going through a really difficult time. Mental health was not something we really spoke about in my community but one of my friends pushed me to go see a counsellor.”
“The first time I went to the counselling centre at my university was the first time I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, and it was actually pretty relieving. I could finally explain what was happening with me.”
But after Al-Nachawati was diagnosed by his university’s in-house psychiatrist, he was told to wait six months to get proper treatment.
“Even after I graduated, I discovered that finding a therapist was really hard,” continued Al-Nachawati. “I reached out to a couple of friends and found out that I wasn’t the only one.”
According to Al-Nachawati, the problem with mental health services in post-secondary institutions is that they are often limited and cannot independently service each student, since mental health support requires multiple sessions, as opposed to quick cold treatments or physical check-ups.
During a Campus Council committee meeting on October 2, 2019, Dean of Student Affairs Mark Overton, explained how a lack of mental health specialists has contributed to the wait times at UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre (HCC). Currently, it can take a student anywhere between one and three months to see a psychiatrist.
LinkMentalHealth helps students skip the wait times by connecting individuals directly to mental health supporters through their filtering platform, where students can choose a therapist that’s right for them.
Students seeking support can go on the LinkMentalHealth website, answer a survey, match with a therapist, and choose a date and time directly on the therapist’s online availability sheet.
A Tinder-like concept for mental health support, LinkMentalHealth helps students find a therapist in their home area who is knowledgeable on the specific mental health issue the individual is struggling with.
The website also matches students to their health insurance coverage—their student union coverage or their parent’s insurance if they opted out—so they can easily access the mental health services available to them.
Most interesting, LinkMentalHealth tailors their search to a therapist’s ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and charging rate.
“I remember for me there were times when I wanted to see somebody from my own background because I didn’t have to explain certain ways that I was raised,” said Al-Nachawati. “But there were also times I really didn’t want to because I just felt that I didn’t want to see someone from my own community.”
The UTMSU health plan currently covers students for $2,500 worth of mental health insurance. UTM students can submit their claim form online through the UTMSU’s insurance provider, Green Shield, and have $125 covered per appointment. This amount can cover around 20 sessions for the year.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 75 per cent of people living with mental health problems reported that they first experienced their mental health issues between the ages of 16 and 25. Post-secondary students fall right in between the average age and thus have a higher chance of struggling with mental health illnesses during their post-secondary studies.
Al-Nachawati said he realizes students have a need for mental health support, but they don’t necessarily have to struggle with the long wait times for the health centres at their university.
“We really want to keep it simple. People have access to resources they often don’t know about. $2,500 is a lot to see a therapist. Instead of waiting around for weeks to see a psychiatrist, you can just see a therapist for 20 sessions—that’s pretty ideal.”
Regarding mental health and who should reach out to get support, Al-Nachawati stressed that it’s never too early or too late to seek help.
“A lot of times we may wonder whether or not we’re at a place where we need it,” said Al-Nachawati. “Going to therapy is like going to a family doctor. [It’s the] ability to build tools that you may not necessarily have.”
Al-Nachawati also mentioned that being aware of your available resources is the first step to restoring your mental health.
“[Students] have options. And what those options mean is that you’re not the only one struggling. Nowadays mental health is something that is spoken about, but I think mental illness is still really stigmatized,” concluded Al-Nachawati. “It’s never a bad thing to need help and to ask for it. It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s an illness, and at the end of the day it is treatable.”