Following McGill’s May 11 announcement that the Fall 2020 semester will be offered online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health services across campus are preparing to accommodate increased student needs while adapting to a virtual environment. The exact steps that will be taken to ensure this support, however, are still being discussed.
Rahul Suresh, U4 Science, is the incoming Chair of Operations at McGill’s Peer Support Centre (PSC), a student-run service that provides non-judgemental peer support and resource referral. He explained that McGill is in the process of finding solutions to the barriers posed by remote learning. The goal is to ensure that all students have access to sufficient mental health support.
“[McGill mental health services] want to make sure that despite […] social distancing, […] no one is isolated,” Suresh said. “It’s important that we have a service that is receptive to […] different students who want to […] obtain support [and] referrals to other resources, [or] just to have a safe and non-judgemental space to talk.”
Many students worry that additional stress caused by virtual learning will put strain on their mental health. The lack of face-to-face interaction, prospective unemployment, and difficult home environments may cause an increase in the demand for mental health services. Incoming PSC Chair of Support Services, Chloe Holmquist, U3 Arts, recognizes that online learning and social isolation make it difficult to predict the type of support students will seek.
“People are in isolation,” Holmquist said. “People are going to be experiencing new waves of emotion and different feelings that we’re going to [have to] start catering [to].”
In previous years, McGill has appealed to widespread student needs by offering stress-relieving activities and workshops organized by faculties or on-campus groups, such as Student Life and Learning. Incoming Arts Senator Darshan Daryanani, U3 Arts, believes that it is important to find new ways to offer stress-relieving events while also fostering a sense of community off campus.
“Frosh, mentoring events [and] career workshops […] are meant to […] to address the anxieties that students have about making friends on campus, meeting new people, or planning for […] future careers,” Daryanani said. “The AUS will have to move with the times […] by having virtual […] positive wellbeing events. It can also look at having an online essay centre, […] online francophone committee meetings, or community care by engaging [in] online workshops.”
Differences in time zones present challenges for international students’ abilities to access virtual counseling. Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning), emphasized that McGill’s International Student Services is continuing to support students from a distance while actively working on new supports for the coming semester.
“We recognize that international students will face distinct challenges as we continue with remote instruction in the Fall, and we have begun exploring how we can best support student success in this new reality,” Labeau said. “Despite the campus closure, students […] can still always connect with an International Student Advisor via email to discuss their case and receive support.”
In the meantime, both the Wellness Hub and PSC have promoted Keep.meSAFE, a virtual 24/7 mental health service offered in over 60 languages that links students to licensed counsellors through a variety of platforms.
Considering the uncertainty of future provincial regulations and McGill’s administrative decisions, the possibility of virtual platforms and in-person support for students returning to Montreal remain in question. Going forward, there will be a heavy reliance on student feedback in order to improve the support that is offered by McGill’s mental health services.
“In a lot of ways, this pandemic has proven how strong the McGill community is when it comes to solidarity and support,” Daryanani said. “At the same time, it shows the weaknesses that we have in terms of providing mental health and emotional support.”