In what may be a first for a Canadian university, McGill has added the internationally renowned WRAP program to its diverse toolkit for combatting students’ problems with mental illness.
Developed in Vermont in the late 1990s, WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) is “a self-designed prevention and wellness process that anyone can use to get well, stay well and make their life the way they want it to be,” according to the program’s website. “It is now used extensively by people in all kinds of circumstances, and by health care and mental health systems all over the world to address all kinds of physical, mental health and life issues.”
WRAP “is a very accessible resource that students can plug into right away,” said Emily Yung, Mental Health Education Co-ordinator in Student Services. “It helps them build a support network that lasts; the people who are in the sessions go on to be friends.”
The program, which began last fall, consists of group sessions led by a mental health staff member and a student, both of whom have undergone a seven-day training session in the WRAP program. There are normally about eight to 10 students in each group, and were six such groups active through the fall term, Yung said.
There will be about a dozen groups this term, some of which started in January, with others beginning in February or March.
You can’t just walk in and join them. Students who contact McGill’s Mental Health Service will be given a first consultation appointment, where they may be offered the option of joining a WRAP group, Yung said. The consultation appointment is there to get an understanding of what the student is experiencing and to identify what appropriate resources are available to best help the student.
The groups are trans-diagnostic, Yung said, meaning there could be students dealing with a variety of mental health issues, from mild depression to substance-abuse issues or anxiety.
“The focus is on wellness and mental health, not so much on illness,” Yung said. “There has been positive feedback; the students who have gone through the program really enjoyed the group sessions and the strategies they learned.
“We haven’t had trouble filling the sessions.”
Given that a recent survey showed more than 40 per cent of students have experienced symptoms of serious anxiety or depression, a number not inconsistent with other universities, it’s no surprise the new service is popular.
Funding has come from both McGill’s Mental Health Service and the Innovation Fund, and is in place for another year. That covers the $1,000 per person for session leaders who go through the training, as well as incidental costs. So far, a dozen people have gone through the training, Yung said, and the idea of developing a more McGill-centric program is under consideration.
The WRAP program differs from the McGill Mental Health Hub, put in place thanks to a $500,000 donation from Bell Canada, which is a website where students can get information about mental illness, as well as a self-screening tool that can help them understand their own situation while providing a list of resources and self-care tips, Yung said. WRAP is not one of the resources listed, because students need to be directed first to the Mental Health Service.