Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, McGill’s Student Wellness Hub has adapted its services to an online format. With in-person learning halted for the year, counselling appointments have been held remotely and wellness activities—such as art nights and behavioural therapy sessions—are being conducted via Zoom. The McGill Tribune looked into how the Wellness Hub is preparing to transition back to in-person services.
Between November and December 2020, Student Rights Researcher and Advocacy Commissioner (SRRAC) Adrienne Tessier surveyed 393 students on their experiences during the pandemic to inform the SSMU on how to address student needs in the coming semester. While results of this study are ongoing, Tessier and Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs (UA) Brooklyn Frizzle shared some preliminary results with The McGill Tribune. Approximately 85 per cent of respondees experienced “Zoom fatigue” from online learning and another 85 per cent of students reported burnout.
At the onset of the Fall 2020 semester, appointments with healthcare professionals transitioned online in response to the changing COVID-19 situation in Montreal and relied on virtual platforms like Zoom, Maple, and Dialogue. One-on-one appointments with Wellness Hub counsellors were also hosted virtually through online platforms. Starting in the Fall 2021 semester, the Wellness Hub plans to deliver support through a hybrid system of both virtual and in-person services.
“We look forward to bringing as many services as possible back to campus as soon as public health guidelines permit us to do so,” Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle said on behalf of McGill University. “In addition to our in-person services, we hope to continue offering virtual supports, as they have been very well received.”
One virtual tool that will remain in the hybrid system is Keep.meSAFE, a free 24/7 online mental health application available through the My SSP website that connects students to counsellors. According to Mazerolle, Keep.meSAFE will continue to be offered during Fall 2021 because of its wide reaching accessibility. Frizzle also noted that Keep.meSAFE has proven to be reliable during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has made healthcare inaccessible to many students […] and Keep.meSAFE ha[s] been useful for […] students abroad,” Frizzle wrote.
The Wellness Hub staff are currently discussing which services should continue to be offered remotely and which should be held in person. SSMU Mental Health Commissioner Julia Caddy said the Society is advocating for the continuation of online resources, as the survey found them efficient in reducing wait times and expanding accessibility.
“The biggest initiative moving forward really needs to be about communicating the opportunities available to students both in terms of accessible programming at the [Wellness] Hub [and] unique resources throughout the community,” Caddy said.
As research has shown, students’ mental health has suffered over the past year. Caddy mentioned that during the Winter 2021 semester, the volume of students requesting support at the Wellness Hub was higher than what was manageable.
“It is no secret that the mental health services at the [Wellness] Hub and in our larger community are being pushed to capacity right now,” Caddy said. “In fact, they already were before the pandemic. We really hope to [raise awareness about] the vast array of health promotion activities, group opportunities, and more that the [Wellness] Hub has to offer.”
In addition to raising awareness about the mental health programs offered by the Wellness Hub, SSMU Mental Health is currently looking into other possible long term solutions to student mental health needs.
“A real solution requires working on a systemic level to create supportive environments in our daily life, to equip individuals and those around them with the skills to manage and respond to mental health [needs],” Caddy said.