Only four months after its official opening, the Student Wellness Hub has received frustrated criticisms, including a recent tweet by a student expressing disappointment about having his appointment rescheduled despite waiting over 80 days to meet with a therapist. Even after receiving a $14 million donation for the Hub, McGill has failed to resolve many of the accessibility issues students have been lamenting for years, such as long waitlists caused by an acute lack of clinical professionals.
Mental health on university campuses is an increasingly important issue that the Hub has aimed to address. In Quebec, one in five students needs treatment for depression. According to Dr. Vera Romano, director of the Wellness Hub, the Hub’s aim was to centralize healthcare services in pursuit of establishing holistic, accessible care. Since Sept. 2019, the Hub has added three psychiatrists, six general practitioners, and three nurses, as well as 11 Local Wellness Advisor for various faculties. Additionally, the Hub also plans to co-purchase off-campus counselling services and implement an online booking system.
Despite these additions, the continued shortage of counsellors and daunting wait times have left students dismayed. Students are also frustrated to see costly aesthetic improvements to the building while waitlists and treatments remain unchanged. These superficial renovations are another instance of McGill prioritizing appearances over student wellbeing, a trend that has been especially criticized in light of the recent “Made by McGill” campaign. Despite claiming to do its best to build incredible students, McGill has a recurring pattern of striving to maintain its prestigious image while ignoring students’ demands for change.
Other similar-sized universities in North America have taken much larger strides towards accessible healthcare. When faced with a similarly overburdened healthcare system, Harvard University created a same-day drop-in program to reduce wait times. The University of Calgary is attempting to receive some burden off on its healthcare system by removing the need for medical notes to excuse absences; no such policy currently exists at McGill.
McGill’s overall approach to mental health is lacking. Starting in Fall 2019, the university removed its long term therapy program: Instead, the Wellness Hub focuses on short-term solutions and immediate prevention. The Hub’s approach is astoundingly out of touch with the realities of students living with mental health issues. Mental health issues can very rarely be adequately treated with short-term care, and the Wellness Hub must confront this reality by offering long-term support. Improving support may also mean offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to students who need it, an option that the Wellness Hub currently does not provide. Wellness advisors can be useful, however, they cannot replace the need for professional psychologists and psychiatrists.
McGill should consider partnering with more local clinics to fill their gaps in service. Having more partner organizations would increase the availability of specific treatment types for different student needs like eating disorder recovery or CBT. In addition, racialized, 2LGBTQiA+, and other marginalized students require therapists who understand their realities, and even reflect their intersecting identities. White, straight, cis-gendered, or male therapists cannot relate to the experiences of marginalized students, and this may hinder their ability to provide adequate treatment. It is incumbent on mental health services to hire and offer treatment by professionals with diverse backgrounds and identities.
Beyond improvements to the Hub, McGill can take other steps to be more accommodating of those affected by mental illness. For example, if McGill wants to prioritize wellness, the university should start by implementing a Fall Reading Week and increasing the amount of available academic advisors. Additionally, McGill should follow the University of Calgary’s example and abandon sick notes as well to remove the burden from healthcare services, and to allow students to take time off more easily. Other measures to prioritize accessibility, such as eliminating pop-quizzes, offering lecture recordings for all courses, and instituting flexible deadlines will help students balance their mental health with their lectures and homework.
The Wellness Hub would not deserve so much criticism if it were not for McGill’s consistent failure to listen to students’ concerns. Students struggling with their mental health must be recognized as authorities on their own needs, and their suggestions for improvements should be heeded by McGill.