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(Coralie Delettre/ The McGill Tribune)

Drop in appointments overhauled at McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services

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Starting this October, receiving medical notes for exam and assignment deferrals has been made substantially more difficult. With the ongoing integration of McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS), drop in appointments at the student mental health clinic have been overhauled. As a part of this change, students will no longer be able to receive medical notes during drop in hours unless they meet the criteria for the newly designed “Safety Appointments.”

Safety Appointments function the same as drop in appointments, but they are reserved for students who are considered urgent cases. This includes those who are having thoughts of harming themselves or others, have had a recent drug overdose, have recently attempted suicide, or been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. It also includes those who have recently been physically assaulted, are feeling disconnected from reality, or are fearing for their physical safety. Drop in hours for students with psychological ailments that do not meet these criteria have been eliminated. For these students, medical notes will be available only if they have had past appointments at MCMHS.

According to the Director of McGill Counselling Service Dr. Vera Romano, MCMHS was faced with significant issues with wait times for both drop-ins and scheduled appointments.

“One of the key rationales for delineating the safety appointments [was] the fact that, when the intake process got bottlenecked, […] it created situations where a lot of [the] urgent appointments […] were filled,” Romano said. “Those who actually were in danger or were in grave need did not have access.We did not implement a change in our [medical note] policy. We have implemented changes that have to do with access, and those have ramifications on how students access medical notes.”

According to Romano, the overhaul of MCMHS is a continuing process.

“It’s very important to communicate that we have not yet finished the launch,” Romano said.  “That is, we’re still in design stage. We’re looking for feedback to see what’s working [and] what’s not.”

The availability of medical notes is one of many items that Student Services plans to address as they continue to tweak MCMHS following its integration. According to the Interim Senior Director of Student Services Cara Piperni, the administration is looking into a number of options to address the issue of medical notes.

“We’re looking at the possibility of having a case manager, like a nurse or a social worker, and they could have time carved out to deal with [medical notes],” Piperni said. “We are looking at the possibility of defining ‘urgent appointments.’”

According to Piperni, it is unlikely that urgent appointments could be used to receive medical documentation for exam deferrals.

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Erin Sobat thinks that the policy change was shortsighted.

“I don’t think that [they are] considering the reality of how accommodation works,” Sobat said.

Sobat has reached out to Student Services in order to negotiate making medical notes more widely available within the new urgent care system.

“I don’t think Student Services fully understands the fact that [they] are basically hanging out to dry this category of students that doesn’t meet this threshold of urgent need,” Sobat said.

Caitlin Courchesne, U3 Science, feels conflicted about the changes. She understands the rationale, but, as a former drop in patient at MCMHS, she is simultaneously frustrated.

“You might not know exactly what a mental health disorder is until it presents itself under a situation of high stress,” Courchesne said. “In the context of [the] exam period, I can imagine that there is probably an influx of students who go [to drop in appointments]. If someone is going who doesn’t need it, then that puts someone else who really does need to access the service at a disadvantage.”

However, Courchesne also feels it is difficult to define a person’s need for mental health services and is worried that without access to medical notes, many students will lack the time necessary to seek mental health support.

“What is the definition of who needs it and who doesn’t? That’s a spectrum,” Courchesne said. “I’ve used emergency drop in during exam time. I went through a loss during [an exam period]. I lost my grandmother. That, by definition, wouldn’t qualify for me to get exempt from an exam anymore [….] It's just frustrating for me to look back on that.”

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