Since the pandemic struck Montreal seven months ago, McGill students’ lives have changed drastically. Classes are now online, many students are studying from home, and those residing in Montreal are once again subject to strict restrictions on social gatherings to curb the second wave of COVID-19. 2020 has been a year of nearly unimaginable stress, leading to a mental health crisis across all age groups, but particularly young people. Now, students are experiencing the added pressure of an academic workload that is just as heavy, if not heavier, than a semester under normal circumstances. All the while, McGill has failed to adapt to the pandemic in a way that prioritizes student well-being. The university must make mental health a top priority by investing in adequate virtual services and rethinking its expectations of students as well.
Being a student is difficult at the best of times. McGill is known for being an academically rigorous university with high standards for its students; many jeopardize their mental or physical health to succeed in their classes. Usually, though, students have mechanisms to cope with stress and manage their responsibilities. They can study with friends, look forward to a weekend of socializing, or go to the library or a café for a change of scenery.
However, the pandemic has made these activities impossible, with students confined to their homes all day. Poor internet service, differing time zones, or difficult home environments make the semester all the more stressful. Further, many McGill students have reported an increased workload as some instructors fail to address ongoing concerns from students regarding remote learning, with many unwilling to accommodate students needing extra help or time to complete assignments. First-year students face the particularly daunting task of adjusting to university life with very little help or support.
The effects of COVID-19 on mental health go beyond academics. Many students live in unhealthy home environments and have reported increased feelings of loneliness. Rates of substance abuse have also climbed. As winter approaches, it will become more difficult to go outside, leaving students even more isolated should the second wave persist. Yet, the ongoing stress of university can lead one to put these concerns aside for fear of falling behind. Even during an unprecedented global crisis, the competitive, capitalist nature of academia continues to make students feel as though they must operate at their full capacity at all times. Although this is indicative of a larger issue within academic culture, McGill and its professors must nevertheless be more understanding of how difficult it is for students to perform as normal.
To make matters worse, McGill’s mental health services remain inadequate at best. Right now, investing in better services and hiring more mental health professionals should be the university’s primary focus. While some one-on-one Wellness Hub services are available online, its website pushes students to join group workshops or access online resources to be used on their own time. These services create the illusion of support, but in many cases do next to nothing to tangibly help. Amid a crisis, it can be nearly impossible to work on one’s own mental health without professional aid. This is especially true when under immense academic pressure. While some student-run services like the Peer Support Centre do valuable work, they cannot be expected to fill the role of licensed professionals. McGill expects students to work as though nothing is wrong, yet provides them with few tools to adequately address their needs when it comes to mental health.
Despite a supposed commitment to its students’ mental health, McGill’s approach continues to fall flat. Rather than insisting that its services are sufficient, the university must be conducive to change and use its resources and capacity to properly adapt to this crisis. Should it fail to do so, McGill will once again have proven its total lack of regard for the well-being of its student body.