Lack of Mental Health Care Coverage for Adjuncts Is Inhumane and Immoral

Like the title says.

I’m currently experiencing depression. On the one hand, I’m lucky because I have time to devote to taking care of my mental health. I just finished a major revision of my memoir, I’m only teaching a six-person course at the moment, and my husband is ensuring that I eat and don’t have to worry about anything but myself right now. On the other hand, I recently lost my extended medical coverage when I was essentially laid off from the University of Victoria (which is one factor in my depression). Because of that loss, I had to stop working with my EMDR therapist, whom I liked very much but could no longer afford, and go on a waiting list for a low-cost counselor who does DBT; none of the low-cost counselors in my city offers EMDR. In the meantime, I’m trying to stay afloat with free Zoom support groups. This situation prompted this month’s post.

Over 75% of instructors at North American universities are now non-tenure-track. The majority of them are adjuncts (or sessionals, as they’re often called in Canada), hired part-time. What this means is that most people teaching college and university students do not have any mental health care coverage.

The only reason I had any was because I taught at least five courses a year at the University of Victoria for the past four years. Thanks to the union’s strenuous efforts, sessionals who teach a minimum of five courses annually receive extended medical coverage there. But someone who teaches four or less doesn’t. Since the only mental health intervention covered by the B.C. health care system is care by a psychiatrist—and since psychiatrists have year-long wait lists—most adjuncts need to pay out of pocket for mental health treatment.

In the Unites States, the situation is similar. Adjuncts almost never qualify for health insurance through the university, and most are not in a position to be able to afford out-of-pocket expenses for therapy, which can amount to a couple of hundred dollars per hour.

In one chapter of the book I’m writing about BPD, I talk about the increasing support for university students with BPD and other mental health problems. It is good that so many students receive accommodations for mental health challenges, although dispensations for occasional absences are frequently abused. Still, these accommodations mark a massive step forward since the 1990s, when I was told that if I were too depressed to attend class, I could drop out. That was the only option.

But does it even make sense to support student mental health while leaving instructors to flounder? Aside from the inhumanity and immorality, instructors’ ill health can impact the classroom in terms of absences. Less tangibly, mental suffering exacerbates the compassion fatigue that so many of us who teach have felt since the start of COVID-19. How can instructors give as much as we are required to give to students these days if we feel we can’t cope with life?

Please, if you are a student or instructor at a university, write to the president and tell them that you want all of your teachers to have access to free, extensive, and (if necessary) specialized mental health care.

When I was a child, I thought universities were places of wonder and high ideals. But unless we fight back, they will become about as ideal and inspiring as Walmart.