Despite being a high-stress university, McGill has failed to provide its students with a sufficient mental health framework. Since The Daily last editorialized on this in October 2014, little progress has been made. Instead, students are the ones who have been taking the initiative, organizing events such as Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place last week, and the Kaleidoscope Mental Health Film Festival. McGill needs to make mental health a priority and provide adequate mental health care, instead of forcing the burden onto the students it purports to serve.
The McGill Mental Health Service (MMHS)’s lack of resources jeopardizes the quality of service it can provide. Currently, not counting psychiatrist visits, MMHS tries to curb students at 16 visits per school year – that is, if they’re able to get an appointment in the first place. The waitlists for patients deemed “non-urgent” are incredibly long, delaying students’ access to crucial care by months.
One student who tried to book an appointment for suicidal ideation told The Daily that they were told to buy a book because there wasn’t space for them to have a follow-up appointment. To make matters worse, McGill is cutting down on its contribution to the Student Services budget, which is otherwise primarily made up of student fees. McGill’s yearly transfer from its operating budget into the Student Services budget, which used to be $443,905 in 2009-10, has now been entirely cut. In addition, McGill increased the overhead costs it charges to Student Services from $30,679 in 2009-10 to $588,733 in 2015-16, forcing Student Services to eat into its accumulated surplus to provide essential services instead of hiring more mental health professionals.
Not only does MMHS lack resources, but the services it does provide are often subpar. According to several student reports, drop-in sessions are ineffective, and the doctors, many of whom are based off campus, have limited availability. The ineffective triage process forces students to articulate their needs in a short period of time and prove that they deserve access to one of the few doctors on hand. Additionally, some students have reported experiencing victim-blaming at the hands of these professionals, whose job is to aid students in recovery, which adds to the trauma these students are trying to cope with. Students have also reported experiences of gaslighting, a form of traumatic psychological abuse that manipulates people into believing that their experiences aren’t real.
In response to concerns about MMHS’s insufficient resources, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens made the University’s priorities clear by declaring, “We are not a hospital.” However, depending on the breadth of students’ insurance coverage, the university may in fact be the only place where they can obtain mental health services. As these essential services are funded primarily by student fees, McGill must give students a meaningful voice in how they function, and be responsive to student concerns. The University is providing the bare minimum with regards to mental health, and the rest of the burden is falling on students. McGill claims that it can’t afford to prioritize mental health, but if it cares about the well-being of students, it can’t afford not to.
—The McGill Daily editorial board