By: Connor Blakeborough

A major topic in this year’s MSU election is student mental health, and rightly so. The number of students who suffer for weeks on end without support is sickening, and as committed as I am to bettering the lives of those students, I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding in the role a counsellor should play in any person’s treatment.

The medicalization of mental health has resulted in one dimensional thinking when approaching the supposed results of one-on-one counselling. I’ve had troubles expressing myself verbally my whole life. I’ve never felt comfortable talking about emotions. Only recently have I found what works for me: speaking about my problems and emotions loudly, in a way that makes me feel empowered. This revelation is the result of friends convincing me to seek out help for some thoughts I was having.

Immediately after my appointment, I called a great friend of mine and vented about how little it helped and how it was a waste of time. I was completely wrong about how much counselling would help me. I’ve heard the same criticisms I made echoed time and time again.

Conversations with friends and peers have revealed a pattern of discontent and dissatisfaction after counselling at the Student Wellness Centre. They tell me how they never receive any real solutions to their problems, and they just end up repeating themselves over and over again. These are totally valid criticisms of counselling as a method of treatment.

Believing in the process requires a certain amount of agreement to be indoctrinated. You’re believing that this stranger can help you with very little tangible evidence to grasp onto upon leaving their office. Sometimes they don’t help at all, and sometimes they completely change your life.

Stop thinking of counselling as a final solution. Think of it as a part of a process, and a part of your journey to self betterment. It’s an opportunity to express yourself in an environment that’s different than a friend-friend or family-family dynamic, and an opportunity to say what has really been bothering you without worrying about the other person’s feelings. Part of the benefit of counselling is the cathartic nature of saying what’s bothering you out loud, and knowing a doctor is listening to you.

The MSU campaigns do little to change this narrative of counselling being the solution for everyone’s mental health concerns. If anything, they promote it by highlighting it when addressing mental health. If you want to get serious about mental illness, let’s take a look at the university environment that resulted in this spike of occurrence, and stop putting counselling Band-Aids on the gaping wound that is poor mental health amongst students. You’re not doing anybody any favours by leveraging mental health as a platform point.

You’re doing a disservice to the struggles that students face everyday, while offering solutions that do little to change a system that is failing so many students. You want to make a change? That’s fantastic, glad to hear it. Let’s start by changing how we approach this issue, and stop acting like we’ve had the right answer and just no money to fund it.

At the time of writing, all candidates have references to mental health in their platforms.

Matt Vukovic’s platform contains a promise to change the McMaster Student Absence Form back to 30 per cent to better support mental health needs of students, and an additional MSAF once the 30 per cent change is achieved.

Chukky Ibe’s platform mentions “providing funds for student groups who create independent programming in regards to the welcome week strategic themes,” including mental health.

Leanne Winkels’ platform specifically mentions counselling by promising to increase the accessibility of counselling services on campus using the surplus from the health insurance fund.

Shaarujaa Nadarajah’s platform mentions advocating for more specialized professionals, staff within residence quads for first years transitioning to University and better training for the peer support service.

Patricia Kousoulas’ platform mentions mental health, but only in the context of promoting healthier study habits for exam support, and briefly in terms of food security having an effect.

Aquino Inigo’s platform mentions the hiring of an additional counsellor to the Student Wellness Centre assigned to the needs of first year students, and better peer support training for residence representatives.

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