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Medication key to mental health initiatives

By Sean Willett, November 23, 2015 —

[row][col w=”6″]The University of Calgary Students’ Union loves to talk about mental health. Mental health strategies are brought up at almost every Students’ Legislative Council, and planning mental health initiatives is a big part of the job for the vice-president student life. The SU even has Stress Less Week, where students can crunch bubble wrap and pet dogs between classes.

Yet, as a person currently dealing with mental health problems, all of this feels disingenuous. Because the SU’s student health plan doesn’t cover the medication I need for my mental illness. 

In September 2014, after suffering a mental breakdown brought on by a combination of depression and stress, I was referred to a psychiatrist. She started me on a medication to help me control my depression. It worked — I felt like a completely different person after only a week on the medication. But there was a catch. The medication isn’t covered by my student health plan. And it’s expensive.

Since then, I have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and placed on another medication. Again, this medication has worked wonders. I can finally focus on school work, manage my emotions and live a relatively normal life. But this medication also isn’t covered by my student health plan. And it’s expensive. [/col][col w=”6″]

by Louie Villanueva

by Louie Villanueva


My doctor now has me taking both medications — I’m reacting well to both of them, and mental health drugs can be notoriously unpredictable when doses are changed or altered. This is also why I can’t switch to any potentially cheaper alternatives. Neither drug has a generic form available, and switching meds on the fly can be disastrous. Because of this, I’m currently paying over $130 a month for both drugs. As a student, that’s a lot of money to pay for something that should be covered by insurance I’m paying for anyway.

And it isn’t, at least not by the plan currently offered by the SU. Provided by the company Gallivan and Associates, this plan does offer quite a lot — dental and eye care, ambulance rides and even many prescription drugs.

If your drug isn’t covered, however, you’re more or less screwed. You can file for exception coverage, but you’re required to have tried at least one of the alternative medications listed on the Gallivan and Associates formulary. Unfortunately, taking a psychiatric drug not recommended by your doctor just to prove it doesn’t work is not a viable option for most people.

So here I am, stuck paying full price for medication I desperately need while I watch the SU set up gimmicky rooms and “awareness” seminars. Unlike these things, my medication actually helps me with my mental health. In fact, besides therapy and a few lifestyle choices, it’s one of the only things that does. Popping bubble wrap and taking a nap at school aren’t going to relieve my stress. Not having to pay an arm and a leg every month for the medication that lets me get through my day, however, would.

I know it would be difficult for the SU to change the list of drugs that are provided by the health plan or to add more coverage for psychiatric medication. But until something does change, I won’t see the SU as an organization that genuinely cares about mental health — just one that cares about looking like they do.

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