On the evening of Wednesday January 25, a panel called “Life AYD: Mental Health Post-Graduation Panel” was held in the Shatner Building, as part of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)’s Mental Health Awareness Week. This event was hosted by Life After Your Degree (Life AYD) in partnership with SSMU, Campus Life and Engagement (CL&E), Career Planning Service (CaPS), and McGill alumni. The panel aimed to combat the stigma around mental health, and connect undergraduate students with alumni.
Panelists included Ryan Golt, an alumnus who spoke out about his experience with mental illness in 2016; Ishani Ghosh, an alumnus who graduated at 2016; and Vickey Habel, an alumnus who, while at McGill, “discovered a new horizon in mental health and aims to help others find their path too,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
Aleks Djurdjevic, CL&E Project Development Specialist (Student Life) and Life AYD co-organizer, told The Daily that the event came about because “we recognized a need to connect students with McGill alumni to hear more about and normalize the mental health issues that can come up during university, and […] the value of hearing other people’s stories and hearing how they got to where they are.”
“We recognized a need to connect students with McGill alumni to hear more about and normalize the mental health issues that can come up during university, and […] the value of hearing other people’s stories and hearing how they got to where they are.”
“Mental health issues are important because to some extent, everybody will experience some in their lifetime. Hosting events like this is important because one of the most empowering things that you can do is talk about what’s going on,” Djurdjevic continued.
“At McGill, we’re trying to do more around graduation. We have a pretty strong program around entering orientation, we put a lot into orientation week, frosh events, but we don’t focus as much on when students are actually leaving,” she added.
“This is a great opportunity to actually hear what student concerns are. […] We’re trying to gauge info and hear what some of their anxieties are about graduation so that we can create more programming to help have their questions answered,” Djurdjevic concluded.
Panelists discussed their own personal experiences with mental health issues, as well as support networks available to undergraduate students struggling with stress and anxiety.
Ghosh addressed the University’s lack of capacity to help students experiencing mental health issues.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences with McGill Mental Health Services and […] I’ve had relatively positive experiences,” Ghosh said.
“Mental health issues are important because to some extent, everybody will experience some in their lifetime. Hosting events like this is important because one of the most empowering things that you can do is talk about what’s going on.”
“But it is […] clear that [compared to the] capacity […], the demand far exceeds the capacity of McGill Mental Health,” she continued. “Maybe there are ways for us to try to increase that capacity because I think that we’ve been relying on peer services, and student driven services, as well as awareness campaigns, to try to bridge that gap. But maybe that isn’t sufficient.”
In an interview with The Daily, Golt, who is also currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, noted that graduation can be a particularly stressful time for students.
In his final year, Golt helped found Stronger than Stigma, a student-led initiative aimed to reduce stigma associated with mental illness on campus.
“The reason why I felt compelled to be a part of this program was due to my own personal experience with mental health, and ever since then I felt a passion and a duty to be as involved in this important cause as much as possible. So by sharing my story, by becoming a resource for students, it’s both healing to me to share my story and I find that it helps others,” Golt said.
“Maybe there are ways for us to try to increase that capacity because I think that we’ve been relying on peer services, and student driven services, as well as awareness campaigns, to try to bridge that gap. But maybe that isn’t sufficient.”
When asked why she decided to be a panelist, Ghosh told The Daily: “I thought it would be a helpful thing […] to come talk about my experience, the resources students have access to, […] unexpected things that can come up before and after graduation especially, because I found that to be a very stressful time. I think these are really important things that we need to talk about and keep viewing from different lenses, from different people’s experiences and getting as many perspectives as possible.”
One attendee, Marine Luciani, a U3 student who studies psychology at McGill, echoed Golt’s sentiment on graduation.
“I think [mental health] important because a lot of people don’t know about it, or don’t talk […] openly about it […]. I think it’s important to talk about it to get more awareness,” she told The Daily.
“Since I’m graduating, I think it’s important for me to know and see how other people have done,” Luciani added. “Any change can be stressful […], work […], school.”
During the discussion, Habel referred to McGill as a “pressure cooker” environment for students, as she stressed the importance of mental health awareness: “It doesn’t only affect the student level, but it can carry over to the workplace, and for the rest of your life.”
“It’s like having a good, healthy body, your healthy mind goes with it” she continued. “If you’re not healthy in the mind, the body falls through […]. The more you take care of your mental health and body as well, everything sort of improves around you. But once you’re afflicted with something like mental health, it’s like a broken bone; you can fix it, but you’ve got to know that you can fix it.”