By: Gabi Herman
This election, there has been a lot of thinking about mental health. Why is it such a huge issue, and what does each candidate have to say about it?
According to the Canadian Association of Colleges and University Student Services, more students with mental health issues are pursuing post-secondary education than ever before. In addition, students say mental health issues have the greatest impact on their academic success. 57.9 percent of students feel overwhelming anxiety, and 40 percent have felt too depressed to function.
MSU initiatives, clubs and the university all have services in place to address mental health issues. The MSU has a number of peer support services, where student volunteers go through training to actively listen, provide advice and sometimes refer students to applicable professionals. A number of clubs also advocate for mental health. COPE, a student mental health initiative club, held their annual “Elephant in the Room” campaign last week, in efforts to reduce mental health stigma. Finally, the University’s Student Wellness Centre has one psychiatrist and a psychiatry resident, a number of counsellors and social workers and group counselling resources.
However, these services still do not meet students’ needs on campus. Many peer support services are notoriously underutilized. Some are difficult to find, and no directory exists with a listing of all peer support services. Student clubs can work to create community, but do not have the ability to directly help those who need trained professionals. The Student Wellness Centre has extremely long wait times for appointments, and students who cannot afford to see a private counsellor are often left without options.
Candidates have different ideas of how to address these problems.
Mowatt hopes to address mental health issues by discussing them with students first. His Campus Chats initiative will bring presidential office hours to discuss issues like mental health and accessibility. He will also use MacTV, an MSU television initiative, to advertise mental health services.
Tonietto hopes to strengthen current initiatives by consulting with managers of peer support services, and says that talking about mental health is important. He wants to give peer support volunteers more training, give peer support more funding, and create a McMaster community that is a safe space for those with mental health issues. He has consulted with Student Accessibility Services.
Monaco-Barnes hopes to reduce wait times at the student centre by hiring another psychiatrist. He also wants to build a McMaster community that is supportive of those with mental health issues through awareness initiatives and training. He consulted with SAS.
Gill wants to be a part of re-writing the SAS policy. He hopes to allow students the option not to disclose a mental health diagnosis. He wants SAS to be responsible for communicating with students’ professors, and he would like to get rid of yearly intake appointments for those registered with SAS. He has discussed this point with multiple people, including MSU Maccess coordinator Alex Wilson and Tim Nolan, the SAS director. He wants to introduce a formal policy on academic leave for mental health concerns, create a minimum counsellor-to-student ratio, and put all peer support services in one location, a point he has consulted with several parties on, including Associate Vice-President and Dean of Students Sean Van Koughnett.
Jama has a short term and a long-term plan. Short term, she hopes to hire one counsellor for the North Quad, and one for the West Quad. She would like them to interact with students in residence. Long term, she hopes to hire counsellors for each faculty, a system she says is already in place at Waterloo. She also wants to create a peer support centre with centralized training and services. She has consulted with SAS, the Student Wellness Centre, and a number of initiatives.