Mental health: McGill tackles a widespread community issue

The focus of last week's annual joint Board-Senate meeting was mental health, with participants breaking into groups to discuss various examples of how mental health issues arise at this university and, as is widely documented, at universities around across Canada and around the world. “There is hardly a topic that deserves more attention than mental health,” said Principal Suzanne Fortier as she kicked off the session. McGill, she said, is looking to take action on this issue, which, as the meeting would discover, affects more than undergraduates cramming for exams.
Between 2008 and 2012, visits to emergency rooms for mental health issues increased by nearly 130 per cent across Quebec, and nearly 150 per cent in Montreal.
Between 2008 and 2012, visits to emergency rooms for mental health issues increased by nearly 130 per cent across Quebec, and nearly 150 per cent in Montreal.

By McGill Reporter Staff

The case studies – students and staff, people from abroad, people from here – are sobering. “Relies too much on alcohol and drugs to deal with stresses of academics, finances and personal issues… Breaks down each semester because of perfectionism and stress problems to the point of paralysis… Late funding, problems with language and husband’s lack of job adding up to unmanageable stress… Changes in work environment and job structure resulting in stress, unhappy co-workers.”

These are some of the thumbnail scenarios presented to roundtables at the annual joint Board-Senate meeting last week. The subject was mental health and the participants broke into groups to discuss various examples of how mental health issues arise at this university and, as is widely documented, at universities around across Canada and around the world.

“There is hardly a topic that deserves more attention than mental health,” said Principal Suzanne Fortier as she kicked off the session, held each fall to explore a specific topic. McGill, she said, is looking to take action on this issue, which, as the meeting would discover, affects more than undergraduates cramming for exams.

“This afternoon’s joint-board Senate meeting, ‘Mental Health at the University,’ could not be timelier or more important McGill,” said Provost Anthony C. Masi, as the early evening session at Faculty Club began. “We have learned from internal surveys, from clinicians, and from discussions with student leaders that the number of individuals making use of psychological services, on-campus and off-campus, has been increasing.

“Qualitative assessments have further indicated that the issues with which some students are grappling are more complex and appear to be of greater severity than in the past.”

Masi said McGill has learned through its contacts with other universities and university networks “that these trends are not by any means restricted to McGill. Peer institutions across North America are reporting similar findings and patterns.”

Keynote speaker Lynne McVey, Executive Director of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, stressed how important it is to try to remove the stigma of mental illness. Forty-six per cent of us still believe that mental illness is used as an excuse for bad behaviour, she said. And that number is even higher among health care professionals. “Are we addressing this in our curricula?” in medical and nursing school, she asked.

McVey presented some sobering statistics:

• 50 per cent of mental health problems first appear before the age of 14 and 75 per cent before 24;

• 75 per cent are not treated (often because of stigma) and those who ask for help wait close to one year;

• Suicide is the main cause of non accidental deaths in youth;

• 23 per cent of all deaths of people aged between15 and 19 can be attributed to suicide.

• The 2013 National College Health Assessment, based in the United States, found nearly 90 per cent of university and college students across Canada reported feeling overwhelmed by stress in the previous12 months.

Demand for mental health services has been on the rise, McVey pointed out, noting that between 2008 and 2012, visits to emergency rooms for mental health issues increased by nearly 130 per cent across Quebec, and nearly 150 per cent in Montreal.

“People living with mental disorders often say the stigma they encounter is worse than the illness itself,” she said.

Efforts to reduce or lessen the stigma are under way at a number of Canadian universities, and McVey singled out the October “Students in Mind” mental health conference organized by Kimberly Dossett at McGill as an example of the kind of leadership that will be required to attack this problem.

The suggestions from the round tables that followed the formal presentations will be collated and followed up.

“The fact that Senate Steering (Committee) and the Board Executive chose this topic for this meeting reflects the importance that our governance bodies place on the psychological wellbeing of our students, staff, and faculty at McGill,” Masi said. “Efforts to respond effectively to these issues at the institutional level, and individually as professors and administrators interacting with students in our daily roles have to increase.”

 

 

 

 

 

Comments on “Mental health: McGill tackles a widespread community issue”

  • That stock photo is an odd and unfortunate choice given this article is about fighting the stigma that is associated with mental illness.

  • Dianne Goudreau

    I find it interesting to read that Provost Masi thinks that “The fact that Senate Steering (Committee) and the Board Executive chose this topic for this meeting reflects the importance that our governance bodies place on the psychological wellbeing of our students, staff, and faculty at McGill,” when MUNACA employees at McGill have had to go on strike to achieve certain basic rights. More recently, this same group of hardworking employees was informed that, come January 16, 2014, they would only receive a three-day pay for two weeks’ work when a new system of bi-weekly pay will begin. This lag period is being imposed for reasons that apparently do not apply to management or professors, who will also be switched to a bi-weekly pay schedule in January. Once again, we are being reminded that rules and regulations are not applied across the board and those employees who will feel the impact the most are the ones targeted. McGill University is under no obligation to impose this two-week lag on us. Instead, it has opted to display another gesture of bad faith by doing so and by doing it solely to MUNACA/AMURE members. This kind of marginalization of employees and imposition of financial stressors has a serious impact on mental health and depression. It is not only necessary for this University to try to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness, but also to try to review the impact of its unilateral decision-making its policies on its employees.

  • I have lived with anxiety disorder and associated agoraphobia for over forty years. Its taken what my ” life”. I have lost jobs, my spouse etc. and even though I have three university degrees have never been able to hold on to employment. I have lived on welfare and in substandard housing for years. I came out of the closet over a decade ago but, employers do not want to hear “mental illness” and ” employee” in the same sentence. The illness is horrible but, trying to tell ” regular” people is the kicker. Yes, STIGMA is alive and well in our culture. Mental illness is still shrouded in secrecy and and for lack of better words lets burn them at the stake mentality by the others. I feel so alone and ostracized. I have been to shrinks, support groups and counselors all my life but, my life is still in the toilet. Just thought I would share.

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