Joint Board-Senate talks mental health at McGill

Meeting criticized for lacking concrete solutions

On Wednesday, McGill’s senators, governors, staff, and students, convened for the annual joint Board of Governors (BoG) and Senate meeting. This year’s meeting revolved around the issue of mental health, focusing on the broad issues of awareness and stigma.

The keynote presentation, given by Lynne McVey, Executive Director of the Douglas Mental Health Institute, talked about the issue of mental health, as well as stigmatization and stressors for students. “It’s an illness like any other,” McVey told the crowd, pointing to research done by scientists that showed that mental illness is a biological and genetic problem.

After another presentation by Jeff Moat, President of Partners for Mental Health, the meeting broke out into small tables to discuss case studies.

Arts Senator Claire Stewart-Kanigan mentioned that one of the proposals that she put forward at her table was incorporating mental health training into the pedagogical training Teaching Assistants (TAs) receive. “Since you already have that structure institutionalized, it would be easy to add a mental health component so TAs can be supportive and aware of where to direct students.”

However, Stewart-Kanigan was critical of the meeting for overlooking issues related to gender or sexuality present within the cases.

Brian Cowan, professor of history at McGill and a member of Senate, also pointed to the fact that the meeting lacked people who have dealt with mental health issues speaking. “Nobody was speaking to the group who actually had experienced mental illness, which actually struck me as odd,” Cowan told The Daily.

Although there is currently a working group under the Student Services portfolio that brings together different players to brainstorm recommendations, the meeting lacked concrete solutions for the state of mental health resources at McGill.

“I actually would have liked to have known what the University is doing now,” Cowan said. “And areas where it thinks it should improve. That would have been useful, and we didn’t really have a whole lot of that.”

Mental health has been a much-discussed issue on campus recently, and Vera Romano, Director of Counselling Services, was happy that it was made a priority at the meeting. “The number one concern [regarding mental health] of McGill students is anxiety and stress – both academic anxiety and stress, and social anxiety and stress,” Romano told The Daily, referring to a study of McGill students conducted by Romano and Lisa Di Genova.

“Mental health is one of those things that everyone has an opinion [on], they want to talk about it, and it is very prevalent […] I think going into it everyone was ready for discussion,” Elizabeth Cawley, the Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill University Member Services Commissioner, stated in an interview with The Daily after the meeting.

Cowan noted that the selection of the topic itself was a good sign. “That’s one thing I found quite positive about this whole affair: the simple recognition that this is a problem. If you can’t recognize that you have a problem, you’re not going to do anything about it.”

“All the right things were being said; this sounds like progress to me,” Cowan added. “On the other hand, the devil’s in the detail and there were very few details.”