McGill pushes towards a healthier campus for Mental Illness Awareness Week

Students and staff come together to improve mental health education and services for the McGill community
Mental health commissioner and student Maya Willard-Stepan (left) tables with member of Safely Connected Elaine Xiao during SSMU activities night.

As a student, it can be challenging to navigate the beginning of adulthood while managing academics and maintaining mental health. According to StatsCan, youth aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group, making university one of the most important places to have support available.  

Students, staff, and administration are hard at work to improve the quality and access to mental health services for the McGill community, including a variety of activities during National Mental Illness Awareness Week during the first week of October.  

Hosted by the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) and the Wellness Hub, the goal of this event was to increase awareness in the student body on mental illness and the services they can access. Activities for the week included workshops and panel discussions on supporting yourself and friends as well as resource education, meditation sessions, and animal therapy.  

Connecting with people

Efforts from the student body were led by undergraduate student and SSMU mental health Commissioner Maya Willard-Stepan, who works closely with administration to advocate for the needs of the McGill community as well as collaborate on new initiatives to support students. 

“My biggest priority is to make sure students know where they can go to for support right now, so if a time comes when they are struggling or know someone who is struggling, the resource is already there for them.” comments Willard-Stepan, “The last thing you want to be doing while in crisis is figuring out where to go to get the help you need, and now that the pandemic is over, we have the opportunity to better connect with people and educate them.” 

Virtual and in-person support

While university alone can be a complicated place to navigate one’s health, living and working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic was especially challenging for many students. With the return to campus allowing in-person resources, Wellness Hub activities and student outreach are back in full swing. But after the years of remote outreach, connecting with new students poses its own challenges. 

During the week, Steve Cameron from the free online therapy service Keep.meSAFE joined students and counsellors from the Wellness Hub for a discussion on how mental health services have changed as a result of the pandemic.   

“Virtual services like keep.meSAFE aren’t supposed to entirely replace in-person traditional therapy, but they are there to offer a different kind of support,” comments Cameron, “Everyone is unique, and so it makes sense that we wouldn’t all need the same kind of tools to manage our mental health. Keep.meSAFE is just one of those tools.” 

During the pandemic, SSMU and administration entered a joint contract with keep.meSAFE, a free service that offers 24/7 crisis and ongoing support through the MySSP app.  

Community support

While some services like the same-day doctor’s appointments at the Wellness Hub are busy with bookings, many support systems available to students such as Maple and keep.meSAFE are currently being under-utilized. Outreach about these services was one of the topics during Mental Illness Awareness Week. 

“It’s been a huge challenge as we come out of the pandemic, because most students on campus never explored the physical spaces that exist that we can go to for support.” adds Willard-Stepan, “My goal as commissioner this year is to help as many students realize that they are not alone in this as possible. It might not always feel like it, but there really is a community here that is rooting for your success and happy to help you.” 

To learn more about mental health services on campus, visit the Wellness Hub webpage, or the SSMU mental health services site.