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Progress slow on mental health recommendations

Students call for university-wide commitment

The recommendations of McGill’s Mental Health Working Group (MHWG) regarding proposed changes to mental health and wellness services at McGill, submitted in June 2014, are currently being implemented by the administration. The general recommendations were to create a more supportive environment on campus, to optimize the use of existing resources, and to review and harmonize mental health service delivery.

The MHWG made its recommendations based on surveys given to focus groups of “stakeholders,” composed of staff members deemed to have constant interactions with students, as well as one graduate student. The stakeholders were surveyed to determine what they thought was lacking and what they thought had to change with regards to mental health services at McGill.

Marilyn Fitzpatrick, chair of the MHWG and an associate professor and program director of the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology at McGill, spoke to the lack of student representation in the stakeholders surveyed.

“[Executive Director of Student Services Jana Luker] wanted to take something that they could begin to take action on quickly and to do a survey of students would have taken much longer than we had,” said Fitzpatrick. “So we surveyed people [who] we thought were stakeholders from the perspective of stakeholders in delivering services.”

According to Luker, the MHWG was initiated due to concerns expressed over the years regarding increasing wait times and inadequate staff to counter that issue.

“We didn’t have the staff to get a response in a timely way, the wait time was increasing, [so] we wanted to look at the whole structure and make sure that we had an idea of access to care,” she told The Daily.

Luker said that the goal is to “continually and sustainably maintain a two-week waiting time,” and recognized the importance of creating more of a “culture of wellness across the whole university proactively, so people aren’t waiting and going into crisis.”

“The big picture is to create a more supportive and proactive culture of wellness,” Luker added.

A timeline of recommendations publicly available on the Mental Health Service’s website outlines next steps and includes status updates of the projects for the month of February, with another update to be provided in April.

There are 36 projects to be completed. According to the projected timeline of implementation, at least 15 of these are currently underway, eight have yet to be started, and two have already been completed.

Luker expressed concern about the recommendations that would require faculty who do not meet certain standards to undergo a faculty mental health training program, saying that suggestions could be made instead of making training mandatory.

“It is hard to tell [faculty that] they have mandatory training for all faculty,” Luker told The Daily. “I can’t say you have to do it, but I can recommend it.”

Arts and Science Senator Chloe Rourke agreed with Luker that the topic of mental health should be tackled not only by the administration, but by the student body as well. Rourke added that the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) was also aiming to address the issue with its own mental health policy plan.

“Ultimately, student mental health issues cannot be addressed by Student Services alone. It requires a commitment from all members of the McGill community, the faculties, and administration,” Rourke wrote in an email to The Daily.

Luker noted that the issue of mental health is serious and relevant to the whole university. “Student Services of course is one of the primary drivers of this because this is our mandate, because that’s what we do, we support students in mental health – it’s a huge component in what we do. The feeling is really that everyone has a responsibility around this, and that’s what we are trying to do.”