Over the past year, mental health has become more visible at McGill, thanks to initiatives such as the annual Students in Mind conference, the Peer Support Network, AUS’ Wellness Week, the Monster Academy project, and the ongoing creation of McGill’s ‘Wellness Portal.’ Having a wide range of initiatives is crucial to destigmatizing mental health and making mental healthcare more accessible. However, McGill still faces barriers in making mental health accessible in logistical terms and providing continuous, quality care for students.
Over 50 per cent of McGill students have reported identifying with symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to an October 2013 survey. McGill’s mental health network, as it stands, is plagued by stretched resources and a lack of decent education surrounding the services it offers, problems that are only worsened by ongoing cuts to student initiatives. While wait times have been reduced to under two weeks, a stark improvement from the past, the 16-session cap currently in place constrains students’ access to help as needed. Furthermore, the distinction between Mental Health Services and Counselling Services is not made obvious to students, leading to build-ups that could otherwise be avoided.
Budget cuts have gone deep into mental health provision, with a $500,000 loss last year in university funding to Student Services. As increased funding in the next few years is unlikely, alternative and cheaper measures need to be more actively pursued to fill the gaping holes in care at McGill. There are alternative services offered mainly through Counselling Services, such as group therapy and workshops focusing on proactive care, but these services are both underpublicized and not united enough to form a comprehensive framework.
Other universities, such as Cornell, have taken initiative to develop far more cohesive mental health frameworks, encompassing elements ranging from leadership statements, crisis management, and political initiatives, to professor and parent education and actual provision of services – and much more. McGill’s mental health framework does not include student, staff, or administrative initiatives in a way that is easily comprehensible, and is instead decentralized, inaccessible, and ad-hoc.
After many years of students and student-led groups filling the gaps, there has been more attention from the University to mental health, as well as the the provision care currently provided on campus. As our student population grows, and more and more students require care, there need to be tangible resources to match the increasing number of educational and awareness-raising initiatives. The University, because of its enormous capacities as an institution, needs to step up to the plate in doing this, and create a longstanding, holistic mental health framework.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board