Members of the McGill community and the Rossy family presented McGill’s plan for the new Rossy Student Wellness Hub (RSWH) on Jan. 28. The $14 million Hub will merge the Student Health Service (SHS), Counselling Services, and Psychiatric Services. The Hub’s pilot project is set to open by May 2019.
“This is the first time that McGill University is investing in [a comprehensive, campus-wide] student mental health [approach],” Martine Gauthier, executive director of Student Services, said. “Over the next six years, McGill is investing eight million dollars, and the Rossy Foundation [is investing] five million dollars [….] I think it’s really going to change the way we serve the needs of students.”
The Hub will be accessible through the West and East Wing entrances of the Brown Building. 11 staff members will be trained in check-in procedures, with five on shift at all times, as opposed to the three at the McGill Clinic. The new waiting areas will also have desks and outlets so that students can study while waiting for appointments. As for treatment, Student Services will hire four more general practitioners, bringing the total number to eight, and will train its six nurses to respond to mental health crises.
“[The Health Services space] was really disgusting,” Gauthier said. “We’ve completely flipped the floor plan [….] We want students to be able to walk in here, no matter what is going on, whether it’s physical or mental, [and] be able to get support.”
The Geography Department is designing a virtual mapping tool for all health services. The new website will allow students to enter criteria, such as Blue Cross Insurance or weekend hours, and view services available to them on an interactive map. Finally, 12 Local Wellness Advisors (LWAs) will be added to various departments across campus.
“LWAs will be embedded in faculties [and] residences, [… plus] there will be one for grad students, [and] one in athletics,” Gauthier said. “[The idea is] to bring wellness where students are learning instead of students having to come [to the clinic].”
Jennifer Chen, member of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Health and Wellness Committee, praised the new Hub’s preventive care model, resilience-building techniques, and attention toward graduate students’ needs.
“For graduate students, there are no set rules that say ‘if you do this, if you follow this, you will be successful,’” Chen said. “[We also] face the pressure from the supervisors’ expectations, leading to a culture where [graduate] students feel that it might be less acceptable to take any leave if they do have mental health issues [….] With the RSWH, they’re starting at prevention and awareness for healthy living, and they’re targeting not just students. [They’re] targeting everyone around them, raising awareness for healthy living. Therefore, the culture and the community will change.”
Nancy Heath, associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Education, remarked that many students were using unhealthy coping strategies to deal with stress.
“Over the last seven years, we’ve surveyed over 10,000 students,” Heath said. “10 per cent said they were using illegal substances, consciously, to self-medicate in times of stress. 15 per cent were using frequent alcohol use, not for fun or partying, but to deal with their stress, and 10 per cent indicated that they were hurting themselves on purpose.”
Heath also advocates for a multi-dimensional approach to increasing resilience to stress, minimizing the need for later interventions.
“In the last five to ten years, […] we’re seeing this resilience-building approach [emerge],” Heath said. “It’s really about teaching students ways to be able to manage difficult emotions [and] challenging situations which they will encounter in a very demanding environment [….This can be] through peers, it can be through a course, it can be online.”
Chen believes that the construction of the Hub indicates that McGill is accepting more responsibility for student well-being.
“Ideally, it shouldn’t be on the shoulders of the students to have to make those conscious, healthy-living choices,” Chen said. “Rather, the institution fosters a culture that promotes healthy living. I think McGill is taking a big step forward in that case.”
A previous version of this article stated that the Geography Department was designing a centralized website. In fact, it is designing a virtual mapping tool.