By Hannah Yale
The Wellness Center has announced that from this semester onward, the 24/7 Wellness Center Helpline will no longer be in use. Instead, the SGA has invested in an emerging app called My SSP, which is available for free on the Apple Store and Google Play Store. Through the app, students can call or chat with a Student Support Counselor 24/7 in real-time or schedule a short-term support session via video or phone. The app also allows students to access LIFT, a fitness app that provides programs customized to personal fitness levels and goals.
However, this app will not be a replacement for traditional counseling services offered by the Wellness Center, including weekday walk-in appointments between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., urgent appointments from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays, and schedule-ahead appointments.
The My SSP app was created in 2018 as a two-year pilot project between Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the Morneau Shepell company, also known as Lifeworks.
During My SSP’s pilot run at SFU, an anonymous article was submitted to SFU’s independent student newspaper, The Peak, claiming that from a student’s perspective, there were “a couple of major problems” with the app. The article, titled “My SSP Does Not Work,” explains that the first couple of times the author used My SSP, they used the standard messaging service, where they said, “the [text] responses I was receiving felt impersonal and as if my situation was being shoved into a general template of ‘support.’” The anonymous student elaborated that the one time they did use the calling service, they were connected to a counselor for “ongoing support,” and instead of receiving support during the call, they were booked a phone session with a counselor scheduled for a month in advance.
Ultimately, the author described the counseling session as “nothing less than a disappointment.” They expressed that they felt like they were being “rushed into dealing with my mental health issues, so that I could ‘get back on my feet.’ . . . [it] seemed like the standard capitalistic ideal for re-grouping workers to make them profitable again.”
However, SMCM Wellness Center Director Laurie Scherer is hopeful that My SSP will expand student access to mental health services. “I’m glad to have different avenues of access to counseling. Not everybody knows how to navigate a system where you make an appointment, wait, show up, and do traditional counseling. The stigma or the planning ahead that it takes doesn’t work for everyone, so to have immediate response 24/7 is ideal for our campus.” Scherer adds, “We are very grateful to the SGA for spearheading this and purchasing it.”
Scherer explains that the school’s subscription to My SSP was purchased by SGA last year to replace the 24/7 Wellness Center Helpline. According to Scherer, the 24/7 Helpline averaged only 1-2 calls per month. “I don’t know if I could have justified continuing the 24/7 Helpline when it didn’t seem that students were using it.” Like the 24/7 Helpline, the My SSP app is staffed by licensed therapists that are contracted through the company. It is unclear whether students will be able to meet with a specific therapist more than once.
SGA Secretary and Wellness Committee Chair Fatima Bouzid told The Point News that she is “really happy with the app we chose to replace the 24/7 hotline.” Bouzid’s only concern with My SSP is the possible wait times to be connected to a therapist on the app, since “[in] times of distress, 5 minutes can seem like a long time.” Overall, Bouzid says she hopes that “students feel like they are never alone during this school year since help can be found right on their phones wherever they are.”
Scherer and Bouzid both emphasized the importance of collecting student feedback and reviewing data collected by the app after the first semester of implementation to see if students are using it and whether they like it. My SSP maintains records of users’ contacts, dates, times, and services provided through the app.
It is possible to keep your information confidential from your school while receiving services through the app by changing the settings in the app. Like with any licensed therapist, discussions with a My SSP advisor and records of how often individuals use the app are confidential, however, there are some circumstances in which Lifeworks has a legal “duty to warn”, such as in situations involving child protection concerns, medical emergencies, danger to public safety, and threats of violence to harm oneself or others.
Scherer is hopeful that the app will allow more SMCM students to access mental health services throughout the school year. “I think the concern about mental health on campus was high before COVID, and [now] I think we all need to join together and address mental health and support each other in every possible way.”