News | Schulich School of Music introduces mandatory mental health course

“Pilot project” to test curriculum-integrated mental health service

With the start of the 2015-2016 academic year, McGill’s Schulich School of Music will be implementing a mandatory course that aims to reduce and prevent acute stress and anxiety in students.

According to Mental Health Education Coordinator Emily Yung, the stress that music students face is unique, as they have to deal with competitive auditions and performance anxiety, amongst other things. Without education on self-care methods, many crumble under the constant pressure to do well, some start to miss classes, and others suffer injuries.

“Music students have to deal with the pressure of performance, meaning they must be able to handle pressure well, have good self-esteem, […] and navigate through obstacles with good mental health,” Jacqueline Leclair, Associate Dean, Academic and Student Affairs, told The Daily.

Interested in her students’ psychological well-being, Leclair approached Nancy Low, Clinical Director at the McGill Mental Health Service, to work out a program. Her goal was to find novel ways aside from therapy, that are economically reasonable, and would allow her students to work on their wellness.

There is an ardent focus on mental health in athletics programs where they have moved away from the “no pain, no gain” mentality, Leclair explained. Leclair spoke to sports psychologists in hopes of creating for music students what has already been made for athletes, a model that places personal well-being as a priority.

The focus of the new program will include talks on the Alexander technique, a method that teaches students to move mindfully through life and makes use of services offered to athletes, such as massage therapy.

“To me this is like a pilot project. I don’t think it should be exclusively music.”

Incoming students will now be required to take the course Music as a Profession, to be taught by Leclair, and partake in a peer mentorship program. Each new student will be assigned a senior student mentor trained by McGill Mental Health Service.

Leclair believes that simple questions like “How are you?,” and “Are you sleeping and eating well?” are necessary in sustaining student well-being. Her initiative will also include creating a student hub, a physical space students can use in the New Music Building that is filled with resources on how to help students in distress, mental health, and injury prevention.

Music as a Profession will also teach students how to practice efficiently and will include lecturers that will speak on topics ranging from leadership to website design to music injury prevention. Guest lecturers will include alumni such as performing violinist John Austin, who will speak on the Alexander technique and professional opportunities.

According to Giuseppe Alfonsi, Associate Clinical Director at the McGill Mental Health Service, the program has been a project in progress all summer, and there has been talk on expanding the program to other faculties in the near future.

Alfonsi worked with psychology professor Richard Koestner, who lectures on well-being and its predictors, to formulate a presentation on self-determination theory, a theory of human motivation, for the course.

“To me this is like a pilot project. I don’t think it should be exclusively music. This year we’re testing it out, seeing what it would be like if other than just waiting in the Brown building, we connect with students and faculty, meet them where they are,” Alfonsi told The Daily.

The plan for the future is to eventually have professional peer partnerships where groups of students learn wellness strategies from licensed professionals and trained peers. Alfonsi described the program as taking “regular actions and strategies that can be used to boost wellness, and offering it in a relatively low-intensity environment – a class. It’s not a miracle cure but the notion is that these students will be getting a sense of how to do what they need to do.”

According to CBC, McGill is the first university in Cananda to make mental health content required in the Music curriculum, and Leclair hopes that doing so will improve the mental health of students and “dispel incorrect ideas regarding mental health [to] ensure a smoother and more successful future.”

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