On Jan. 30, Chloe Legault, U1 Arts, made a reddit post asking whether it was too late to request a leave of absence due to her mental health. Subsequent discussion threads posted to the McGill subreddit have revealed that a number of students are considering dropping out, deferring, or taking a leave of absence due to mental health issues.
Simon Kidd, U4 Arts and a moderator for the Reddit thread, has noticed the number of posts related to mental health issues steadily increase over the pandemic—though he says they have recently decreased since the return to in-person teaching. Posts from students contemplating dropping out were nothing new, however: Kidd says they were only frequent during stressful academic periods of the semester prior to the pandemic, whereas now they trend throughout the year.
“Often mental health, physical health, or loss in the family is the driving force behind dropping out,” Kidd wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “The pandemic has led to an uptick of posts with users expressing their desire to drop out of McGill.”
Though most of her classes are currently delivered in a hybrid format, Legault says she is experiencing burnout, and that taking a break from school would be beneficial for her mental health. She says that McGill has not been very accommodating throughout her struggles with depression and anxiety, citing a lack of accessibility to the Wellness Hub.
“I wish I could say the university is accommodating,” Legault said. “They offer the idea, ‘Here are some mental health resources on the Hub,’ but usually the counselors or psychiatrists are too busy.”
Olivia Bornyi, U2 Arts and the mental health outreach coordinator for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), told the Tribune in an email that she, too, has noticed an increase in burnout and hopelessness due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic.
“I think everyone is tired of feeling uncertain and having to constantly adapt,” Bornyi wrote. “I definitely believe that students feel overwhelmed during online classes with an ever-growing workload, not to mention other responsibilities such as clubs or part-time jobs.”
Bornyi noted that difficulty accessing mental health services has only compounded the struggle.
“Accessing student mental health services has been hard, with both the Wellness Hub having long wait times and provincial services lacking in accommodation for students that need immediate assistance,” Bornyi wrote. “Throughout Mental Health Action Week, the general sentiment seemed to be that people were feeling lonely and missing social interaction.”
Frédérique Mazerolle, a McGill media relations officer, stated in an email to the Tribune that the university had not observed a rise in university withdrawals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fall 2021 enrollment (39,267 students) is comparable to Fall 2020 (39,736 students) and Fall 2019 (39,664 students),” Mazerolle wrote. “In fact, withdrawal numbers are, since the first semester impacted by the pandemic (Winter 2020), down compared to the terms preceding the pandemic.”
Legault has, however, abandoned the idea of taking a leave of absence. Since the Arts OASIS notes that the request must be made before the withdrawal with a full refund deadline, she assumed that it was too late.
“There is no definitive statement from McGill that I can find, but what I gathered is that you can probably get a leave of absence for mental health issues provided that you get the proper documentation,” Legault wrote. “If McGill wants to be more progressive about mental health issues, they must be more forward and transparent about [leaves of absence].”Students seeking support can contact the SSMU Mental Health team, and Keep.meSAFE. Students can also consult the McGill mental health webpage.