As Mental Health Awareness Week commences, students and faculty alike should consider spaces for improvement in the structures available on campus. Providing upstream services, which are preventative support measures, can promote well rounded health care on campus. Mental Health Services does the utmost it can to help all students with appointments, but financial resources and lack of awareness among the student body limit its capabilities. The mission, therefore, has to be to find alternative methods that will help contribute to the mental health and well-being of all students on campus. More work can be done on a faculty and individual level to encourage upstream services in all facets of student life.
The Schulich School of Music has the right idea in educating students about mental health and support immediately upon their arrival to campus. The Faculty of Music has made integrating mental health into its program a priority in the past year, with special emphasis on ways of addressing the unique needs of music students. Integrating mental health means making mental health awareness and self-care a core part of what students study and experience on campus. Through new first year programs, such as a music professional development course and a mentorship program with upper-year students, students are taught about mental health and provided with tools to assist them in adjusting to university. Other faculties should follow Schulich’s example in developing services to ensure that more students receive the individualized care they need and do not fall through the cracks.
Faculty-specific wellness programs would complement existing initiatives such as the Peer Support Network and McGill Students’ Nightline in providing upstream mental health services. But with more faculty-specific programs come higher costs and difficulties. The Faculty of Arts, for example, is much bigger, making it harder to integrate mental health awareness and well-being into the lives of every student. It may also lead to inequalities between the faculties in terms of services they can allocate to mental health; some faculties simply have more resources than others. Nevertheless, by incorporating these measures at faculty level, students will have improved access to McGill’s mental health resources.
Making mental health an increased focus within each faculty would ultimately benefit the McGill community as a whole and provide needed support to the programs that already exist. In an ideal world, mental health crises are prevented and mitigated before-hand by knowledge in mental self-care and a strong support network. Other student initiatives have taken place to encourage a dialogue about mental health on campus, such as the Students in Mind Conference, in order to increase awareness and services to students who might be unaware of, or unwilling to take advantage of mental health services on campus. The conference also aimed to empower participants to be more aware of their own mental health, and to destigmatize mental health so that more people can honestly admit when they need help. Such initiatives increase the salience of mental health care in circles on campus while providing students with self-care and peer-support tools.
Mental health issues are not going to vanish if we stop talking about them. By focusing on upstream services, as well as grassroots and faculty-level initiatives, students will integrate mental health awareness and resources into their lives. Integrating upstream services that focus on preventative care is a more efficient and personal way to deal with mental health issues on campus. With a combination of mental health services and upstream care, students will be empowered to help their peers as well as themselves.