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.”