Special issues  Navigating mental health at McGill

I came into my first year at McGill with wide eyes, sweaty palms, and a bad case of undiagnosed depression. When I walked into the Brown building seeking help the second month of school, after McGill’s shininess had worn off, I heard words like “depression”, “severe”, and “medication”. Riddled with internalized stigma, and the beginnings of an age-typical identity crisis, I did what any freshman would do in the face of big revelations —I ran the other way. I didn’t come back until the next fall semester, but by then it had gotten worse, as most untreated illnesses do.

My experience is one of many; whether you’re currently struggling, have a friend that’s struggling, or just need a safe space to vent, hopefully you’ll find something below that works for you. All of these services are free of charge for McGill students unless otherwise stated. The list is not exhaustive, and not all of them will be a right fit for you, but do not procrastinate your wellness. Keep looking for something that is.

Peer support

The Peer Support Centre (psc.ssmu.ca), founded in 2013, provides confidential, face-to-face, one-on-one support with a McGill student volunteer. You can drop in during their hours, or make an appointment online to speak with a peer who has “[undergone] more than forty hours of training on topics such as active listening, ethical conduct, confidentiality, and a range of common student issues. While the SSMU building is under construction, they are located on the second floor of 3471 Peel St.

Nightline (nightline.ssmu.ca) is a student-run call centre at 514-398-6246, open 6 PM to 3 AM during the school year. They provide anonymous, judgement-free active listening crisis management, and referral services, free of charge. They also have an online instant messaging support called Chatline.

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) (sacomss.org) provides support to survivors of sexual assault throughout the entire year. They have a hotline, drop-in appointments, and hold support groups. They consult or train many of the other McGill groups listed below, and can advocate on the behalf of McGill students and staff for conflicts related to sexual assault.

Other peer support services include Vent Over Tea (ventovertea.com), an active listening service which pairs you with a student volunteer in a local café. If you’re living in rez, another source of support can be floor fellows, who are trained to respond to mental health issues.

Off-Campus services

Living in downtown Montreal means that you are not limited to services within McGill. Along with several helplines, Montreal also has a variety of free health centres and non-profits that can offer help.

Centre local de services communautaires (CLSCs), or local community centres often offer several mental health and referral services. Some require Quebec medicare or out-of-province health cards, and some (but not all) offer services in English. You can check the Quebec Wellness Centre site (sante.gouv.qc.ca) to find one close to you that suits your needs, or the off-campus list on the McGill Student Health Service website.

The same page lists a few private clinics, but most of these require a fee upfront, especially for non-Quebec residents.

Face à Face Listening and Intervention Centre (faceafacemontreal.org) opened in 1982 as a listening service for those in need. It has now expanded to include free 8-week counselling sessions, support groups, and listening and referral services all focused on empowering people experiencing tough situations. It is located a 14-minute bus ride or a 26-minute walk from the McGill area.

Head & Hands (headandhands.ca) provides free drop-in medical clinics to 12-25 year-olds, regardless of their access to health insurance. They are open Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 4:45 PM and are able to see 10 people by random draw, rather than on a first come, first served basis. You’ll meet with a friendly health educator followed by a physician. They are a 33-minute bus trip from the McGill area.

Some 24/7 phone services you can try include the bilingual Tel-Aide, a listening service at (514) -935-1101. If you’re struggling with addiction, Drugs: Help and Referral (DAR) (reachable at (514) 527-2626) provides bilingual information, support, and referral services that connect you with a certified counsellor. Info-Social puts you in contact with a psychosocial intervention worker. They can be reached via the number 811. Interligne offers 24/7 phone, text, email, and online chat services for the LGBTQ+ community. They can be reached at 1 (888) 505-1010 through text or (514) 866-0103 on the phone.

Find your Community

Your mental health and healing process will intersect with many facets of your identity. Though the following groups are not all mental-health related, connecting with like-minded people and staying informed in a safe space can make all the difference.

The Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) (www.facebook.com/equity.diversity/) was “founded in 2005 in response to issues surrounding harassment and discrimination at McGill.” They work closely with many other groups listed above. They host workshops, events, consultations, and provides grants to support research and knowledge exchange, all to incorporate equity as a fundamental part of a McGill education.

Queer McGill (www.facebook.com/QueerMcGill) is “a social, political, and informational support service for queer students, by queer students.” Part of SSMU, they hold workshops, meetings, “gayme” nights, among other activities, and host an active Facebook forum. They also provide staffer training sessions every semester for anyone who wants to get involved.

The Union for Gender Empowerment (UGE) (www.facebook.com/UGEMcGill/) is an “anti-racist, trans-positive, feminist organization” with a variety of resources that help to advocate and educate the McGill community about gender-based oppression. They have a library of gender-related reading material, a zine, drop-in appointments, and a co-op that sells menstrual products, safer sex products, sex toys, and other gender-empowerment items on a pay-what-you-can basis.

You should also look into cultural, identity and advocacy groups and resources like the Black Students’ Network (BSN), the First Peoples’ House, Arab Student Network, McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), as well as local groups outside of McGill such as the South Asian Women’s Community Centre.

Some groups and events at McGill, like the following, focus on mental health more specifically, and are a great way to stay informed and practice self-care.

Students in Mind Mental Health Conference is an annual conference organized by students that includes panels, workshops, activities and speakers. The next conference is set to be held in January 2019. McGill’s chapter of jack.org holds self-help workshops and self-care activities, a speaker series, and local “summits” where students gather to discuss mental health. The parent organization of jack.org also holds regional and national summits.

McGill Student Association for Collaborative Mental Healthcare (CMH) holds multidisciplinary discussions about Quebec’s mental healthcare system, with a focus on engaging future mental health workers and researchers. They have an annual conference and hold networking opportunities for graduate and medical school students. Healthy McGill (www.facebook.com/healthymcgill/) is a more general health group part of Student Services. They have several helpful resources on their website and have a portion of their peer health educators involved in their Mental Health and Wellbeing team.

McGill Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (MORSL) (www.facebook.com/morsl/) is another helpful resource. It offers a cozy lounge located on the second floor of the Presbyterian college in front of the Milton Gates, places of worship, workshops, and their own spirituality magazine, Radix.

McGill Counselling and Psychiatric Services

Both services fall under the broader group of Student Services, so any full-time or part-time student, who has paid the Student Services fees, has access to them. They are open the entire year, including the summer months.

To get a counselling appointment, you have to make an appointment on the phone at (514) 398-3601, or go in-person to Suite 4200 of the Brown Building. Bring your McGill Student ID card and a copy of your insurance to your first appointment. Your first session will be an hour-long assessment, where the clinician establishes a personal plan for you, which might consist of individual therapy, group therapy, self-directed online therapy, and/or workshops. This fall, they’ll be re-introducing drop-in counselling appointments.

If you access individual therapy, you have the right to ask for a clinician of a specific gender, a French-speaking clinician, or one that is part of the PRIDE Counselling Team members with experience in helping LGBTQ+ students.

McGill’s Psychiatric Services are located in the same building, in Suite 5500. To make an appointment, you’ll need a referral from either a family doctor or from a clinician from Counselling. You’ll need your McGill ID Card along with your McGill Insurance or Health Card (provincial or Blue Cross). Usually, if you’re struggling, the first stop will be McGill Counselling.

Most criticisms of the McGill counselling and psychiatric services are of their long wait times and their failure to meet the demand of students. For example, last Winter, more than 1,000 McGill students signed a petition expressing concerns about the medical note system, Student Service’s diversion of funds away from mental health services, the lack of mental health integration into other services, and the lack of input from the larger McGill community in their decision-making process.

In the past, wait times have ranged from three weeks to over a month for initial counselling appointments, though the wait is generally shorter for psychiatric services. The earlier you book, the better; don’t wait until it gets worse.

In the works is the Rossy Student Wellness Hub, which will be located on the third floor of the Brown Building. In an interview with The Daily, Martine Gauthier, Executive of Student Services, stated that “the main goal of the [The Hub] is to simplify access to McGill’s health and wellness services,” and represent a collaboration between physical and mental health services. They’ll have a new drop-in clinic, a common room, and a website that lists their services. They will house faculty-specific wellness advisors and the campus Shag Shop.

Academic Support and Other McGill Services

The Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) (mcgill.ca/osd) can provide resources and accommodations for students with mental health issues, disabilities, and chronic health conditions. They provide workshops, exam accommodations, note-taking services, and tutoring.

The McGill Student Health Centre (mcgill.ca/studenthealth) is available to students who have paid the Student Services fee as part of their tuition and allows you to see a doctor or a nurse. Make an appointment at (514) 398-6017.

The McGill Mental Health Hub (mcgillmentalhealthhub.ca) provides a variety of online resources and referrals to other services, within and outside of McGill.

Empower Me is a service open to students who are under the SSMU Health & Dental Plan. They have a 24/7 hotline which you can reach anywhere in North America at 1- (844) 741-6389. A trained counsellor can provide you with a confidential, short-term online counselling via video, or phone.

Know your student rights. Formed under SSMU’s University Affairs Committee, the “Know Your Rights” website (studentrights.ssmu.ca) and campaign give a breakdown of your rights as a student. These include exam deferrals, exam conflicts, accommodations, and links to official McGill policies and charters.

Emergencies

If you or someone you know is in danger, call 911. McGill Security can be reached at (514) 398-3000 for the downtown campus. However, when calling the police, be mindful of Montreal and Canada’s history of police brutality and racism, and consider the safety of Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) around you in the presence of the police.

Suicide Action Montreal: 24/7 hotline at (514) 723-4000.

TRACOM Centre for Crisis Intervention can be reached at (514) 483-3033, and provides both phone support and short-term crisis housing.

McGill offers Urgent Care Safety Appointments, where you can immediately meet with a psychiatrist at Psychiatric Services, Brown Student Services Building, Suite 5500, West Wing, Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The student testimonies were edited for clarity