On Nov. 18, the McGill Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology launched the Mental Health Support Program. The department-based project offers students a chance to meet with individuals who were selected to be supporters. These volunteers include graduate and undergraduate students, administrative personnel, and professors trained by McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS).
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology Student Affairs Officer Vittoria Catania voiced her support for the mental health initiative, as students often struggle with the adjustment to more difficult classes at university.
“This program, I think, needs it,” Catania said. “It’s a very competitive program. If you get a B, it’s the end of the world sometimes [….] From within the class population, a lot of [students] really freak out when they don’t do [as] perfectly as they did in freshman year or in CEGEP. It’s a big change.”
In an email to The McGill Tribune, McGill Anatomy and Cell Biology Students’ Society (MACSS) President Jill Laurin said that most respondents to the “Needs Assessment” Survey— which was created in collaboration with MCMHS—felt that the addition of a department-specific mental health program would be helpful.
“Speaking strictly about the survey administered to undergraduate students […] 78 per cent of students who completed the survey felt their mental health had been negatively impacted during their studies at McGill […] and over 70 per cent of respondents said they would engage with such a program, either to receive and/or provide support,” Laurin said.
The Schulich School of Music runs a similar Buddy Program for first-year undergraduate students. Last year, the faculty established a Well-Being Fund to offer free massage therapy as well as Alexander Technique classes, a posture technique that helps to minimize tension. Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Jacqueline Leclair said the Alexander Technique lessons teach students how to avoid straining their muscles unnecessarily.
“As a Music Performance major, you can’t overstate the impact [an injury] has on your anxiety levels, your personal life, […] and this is a 100 per cent preventable,” Leclair said. “Traditionally, it’s considered a kind of taboo for [musicians] to admit that they’re in pain […] it’s like a sign of weakness. Truly, as expert musicians, our bodies are our instruments [….] We need to know how to help each other prevent injury and if you do get injured, how to recover.”
MCMHS is also increasingly tailoring well-being programs to different faculties. In an email to /The McGill Tribune/, Mental Health Education Coordinator Chloe Rourke explained that faculty-based mental health projects assist students in overcoming challenges particular to their field.
“Establishing faculty-based mental health programming builds upon and strengthens the communities within a student's own discipline,” Rourke wrote. “We know that one key element to recovering from mental illness and maintaining mental health is the size of your support network. Informal community-based supports are essential complements to professional support and greatly increase the efficacy of treatment.”
In Fall 2016, the Engineering Undergraduate Society of McGill (EUS) created the EUS Mental Health Committee to support engineering students while promoting resources offered by MCMHS.
EUS Health Commissioner Jiayi Wang, U3 Mechanical Engineering, noted that the committee also distributed a wellness survey.
“Before this year, there were barely any mental health initiatives in Engineering,” Wang said. “This year, we created this new EUS Mental Health Committee and the [mental health] survey is just one of the things we decided to do this year [….] You hear these things like, ‘Oh, engineering is very hard and it’s really stressful,’ but we want to get a sense of what’s it really like.”