SSMU hosts panel on current state of mental health at McGill

On Oct. 24, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) hosted a mental health Q&A panel on the newly integrated psychological services at McGill University. A follow-up to the SSMU Mental Health Forum from March 2016, this panel discussed the integration of McGill Counselling and Mental Health Services (MCMHS) as well as the newly implemented stepped-care model of mental health treatment. This model aims to treat students by using less-intensive treatment in the first instance and incrementally building up to more specialized services if deemed clinically necessary.

McGill has altered the stepped-care model slightly so that a wide spectrum of services can be tailored and assigned to students, depending on their needs. The student is assigned to a clinician during consultation, where the two parties collaborate to create a treatment plan focused on the preference of the student.

According to Giuseppe Alfonsi, Associate Clinical Director of MCMHS, the changes are helpful in light of Montreal’s limited mental health care services and the growing need for mental health support at McGill, which saw a 35 per cent increase in users over the past five years.

“Services outside of McGill for mental health are abysmal in Montreal,” Alfonsi said. “A lot of our students are also anglophone, so there’s [also] a natural barrier that exists in mental health. Part of the reason why we do have a larger service in terms of number of staff, we have one of the larger services in Canada in terms of the number of psychologists and psychiatrists, […is that] it’s just not easy to access care [in Montreal].”

The stepped-care model focuses on matching the level of intensity of care to the condition’s complexity. For George Radiotis, a psychotherapist with MCMHS, the main benefits of the newly integrated stepped-care model are its flexibility and the increased collaboration between service providers and users.

“I meet with a student [and] we identify what their needs [are],” Radiotis said. “It’s a collaborative process [….] It isn’t a one-size-fits-all. We try to tailor specifically to students.”

Teri Phillips, director of the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), said that the different options available and various levels of treatment intensities are beneficial to many students who are otherwise resistant to accessing mental health services.

“[The] variety of options allowing for autonomy works really well for students who otherwise wouldn’t access services at all, and who really need to access services, to get to a point where they’re ready to,” Phillips said.

The panel discussion was the first open discussion on the new changes in MCMHS with students this semester.

For Jiayi Wang, U3 Engineering, the panel was a good step in bringing to light the stepped-care model, which includes more options for students to choose from, such as online therapy and peer support.

“It's good that they recognize the growing need for accessing the services and I appreciate that they are taking active measures to modify the way they offer their service in order to meet the needs,” Wang said.

Still, there are remaining issues to address in mental health provisions at McGill; Namely, stronger communication regarding the new services and more consultation with the student body.

“I think that a communications plan is needed to introduce students to the new mental health service delivery model, while clearly explaining the rationale behind the model and changes that it entails,” said Quinn Ashkenazy, U4 Arts and chair of McGill’s Peer Support Center (PSC). “The other key piece is consultation. Diverse students input on the model is needed. Students should play an essential role in shaping the mental health service model designed for them.”

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