From Jan. 15 to 21, the 2018 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) featured a variety of events to spark discourse on mental health and strategies for improving it. Student organizers led workshops and panels on topics ranging from sleep habits, managing mental health while living in university residences, mental health in academia resources on campus. MHAW culminated in the annual Students in Mind Mental Health Conference, which included an exposition of McGill’s mental health resources, six panels, and a keynote speech.
Sleep Hygiene Workshop – Julie Guichard
Led by Peer Health Educators Alyssa Wooster, U3 Arts, and Rawda Baharun, U2 Arts, the Sleep Hygiene Workshop on Jan. 15 investigated sleep-related topics, including common barriers to falling asleep and strategies for resting. The workshop began with a presentation from Wooster and Baharun, followed by a roundtable on sleep habits. Among other tips, Wooster advised students to avoid doing homework or job-related activities in bed.
“Try to keep your bed just for sleeping and sex,” Wooster said. “Studying in bed associates a place for relaxation to school stress.”
Wooster also stressed the importance of MHAW as a space for students to ask questions about mental health without having to go to a counsellor, which many students find intimidating.
“It can be very useful to hear information from a peer,” Wooster said. “It can be difficult to have these conversations with an adult or personal advisor.”
More broadly, the goal of the Sleep Hygiene Workshop—and MHAW more broadly—was to help students claim greater agency over their own mental health.
“One in five Canadians suffer from mental illness, but five in five have [suffered from] mental health [issues],” Wooster said. “The aim is to provide students with information so that they can make [their own] healthy choices.”
Mental Health in Rez: Seeking Support and Stopping Stigma -Daniela Garabito
Held at Carrefour Sherbrooke on Jan. 16, the Mental Health in Rez panel was designed to teach first-year students how to navigate McGill’s Counselling and Psychiatric Services.
The panel featured several McGill students, including floor fellows, who shared their experiences tending to their mental health while in residence. They discussed barriers they faced with McGill’s Housing and Food Services, such as the lack of mental health support for floor fellows and inaccessibility of cafeterias for students with eating disorders.
Additionally, the panelists discussed ways to tackle mental health stigma within their residences, and concluded by recommending self-care habits for first-year students, such as organizing their schoolwork, leaving the McGill bubble, and—most importantly—embracing the mistakes they make during first-year.
“Self-care is accepting that you’ve done enough, and it won’t be perfect,” Ffion Hughes, panelist and U1 Arts, said.
Mental Health and Academia: An Open Discussion -Laura Oprescu
The Mental Health and Academia discussion on Jan. 16 was organised by SSMU Vice-President (VP) University Affairs Isabelle Oke as part of the Know Your Rights campaign, an effort by SSMU to make information about students’ academic rights more accessible. The discussion, open to contributions from audience members, focused on balancing academics with other areas of student life, and explored methods of reducing the burden of academics on mental health.
“Once [your parents stop] taking care of every aspect of your life, you realise how much of a responsibility one person is,” Oke said. “That can be hard to balance with academia.”
Priya Dube, U2 Political Science, who attended the discussion, believes that students’ real and perceived inability to speak out against their professors on academic issues can contribute to poor mental health.
“Breaking through power structures, taking control of your learning space, getting the return on your investment, [all are ways] students should be able to call out professors for saying things that may be offensive without fear of being penalized,” Dube said.
Students in Mind 2018 Mental Health Conference -Jacqueline Yao
The 2018 Students in Mind conference on Jan. 21 consisted of six panels exploring mental illnesses and various methods for improving mental health. Following an exposition of the mental health resources offered at McGill, keynote speaker Beatrice Deer, an Inuk activist and health advocate, chronicled her own struggles with mental health.
“I wasn’t ashamed of talking about what I was going through,” Deer said. “I try to know my limits now so [that] I don’t fall back into depression because I understand that once you’ve gone through depression, you are prone to going through it again.”
Jasmin Chahal, a third-year Ph.D Microbiology and Immunology candidate at McGill, led a workshop on self-expression through writing, and encouraged overwhelmed undergraduates to look at the bigger picture.
“[Undergraduate students are] stressed about people and how they’re doing, and their [own] life in general revolves around grades,” Chahal said. “I was once told that life is like a pizza. School is just a piece of it.”