Health and wellness are a crucial aspect of sustainability – ones that many students will struggle with.
Undergraduate student and the Students’ Society of McGill University’s Mental Health Commissioner Julia Caddy is no stranger to the mental health challenges youth face during their studies and beyond, and has committed herself to making sustainable change on campus by transforming the mental health landscape.
During her time at McGill, she has involved herself with Students in Mind, the McGill Students Chapter of Jack.org, and SSMU Mental Health. Beyond formal activism, she has worked closely with the Wellness Hub, Student Services, and the Dean’s office to advocate for the improvement of services.
In a sit-down with the Office of Sustainability, Julia discusses the intersectionality of mental health and the future of sustainability.
You have been extremely involved in mental health advocacy since you arrived at McGill. Why is this cause so important to you?
At the root of my passion for mental health is my own experience with mental illness, but the momentum that has kept me going comes from knowing that there are things that we have the power to change to genuinely make a difference in people’s mental health. Knowing that it is within our power to improve our community’s mental health and our community’s capacity to support one another continually inspires me to keep pushing for an environment where everyone can thrive.
What are some of the ways you have seen changes surrounding mental health policy and discussion on campus since you arrived at McGill?
There has been tremendous improvement in terms of services and resources on campus. While no resource is “perfect,” the re-conceptualized Student Wellness Hub really helps create more opportunities for students to not only get help but to navigate what the best support would be for their particular circumstance.
At McGill, as well as more generally, I have witnessed an increase in the acknowledgment of mental health in our discussions, and that’s a very big change. Amongst those of us taking action, the conversations have become a lot more nuanced. Instead of just pushing for more capacity in the resources that we already have, there is a bigger discussion emerging on how we can create a system that allows people to thrive and receive support from amongst the community before things come to a point of a crisis.
At the root of this is a recognition of the role that intersectionality plays in mental health, and an acknowledgment that mental health can’t be addressed in a silo. It’s so closely connected to experiences of racism, discrimination, disability, economic barriers – all the social determinants that either set us up for success or attempt to weigh us down. Everyone’s experience of mental health is uniquely theirs. We can’t expect there to be a one-size-fits-all approach.
Why is mental health such an important aspect of sustainability?
In a lot of ways, I think health and wellness are at the centre of sustainability.
Creating a socially sustainable community requires addressing the health of its members, and that in and of itself requires addressing numerous social determinants of health that are inextricably tied to systems of inequality and oppression. Whether as a cause or a result, so many of the diverse challenges we face involve mental health and the struggles that come along with it. There are so many social determinants of mental health that are inextricably tied to systems of inequality, and both need to be addressed to create a socially sustainable environment.
Another way that mental health ties in is that individuals working to improve sustainability need to be able to maintain the capacity to do so. If those of us working to make a difference aren’t taking care of our own mental health, we are at risk of burnout. It’s the same as needing to put on your own oxygen mask first; if you aren’t able to take care of yourself, you lose the capacity to make meaningful change for others and for the world more broadly.
Wanting to change current issues involve an understanding of what’s wrong, and this is where issues like eco-anxiety come into play. As the effects of climate crisis grow increasingly visible, young people are struggling to imagine a future, and we cannot push on without recognizing the immense anxiety and complicated emotions that come with this.
Many events you have planned [with groups on campus] have involved working with the Office of Sustainability to receive Sustainable Events Certification. Why has this been a priority?
It really comes down to the fact that we need to recognize and model that we don’t see mental health as a standalone topic. We want to show that you can’t just focus on one issue of sustainability. Supporting mental health is supporting a greener future. It is supporting accessibility. It is supporting inclusive language.
There are values that we as student organizers have about prioritizing sustainability, and the Events Certification is a great tool to turn these values into concrete actions so that we can “walk the talk.” The process of certification isn’t only a tool to help us reflect the values we already hold; it also provides a guide to make sure we are living by those values.
If you had one message to share with the McGill community about mental health at McGill, what would it be?
What I want people to realize is that the most impactful thing you can do to support mental health on campus is to model healthy habits yourself. Make sure to prioritize your mental health – even if that goes against what you’re used to doing – and resist the glamorization of toxic productivity amongst our community.
We can’t expect other people to prioritize their mental health if we aren’t even taking care of ourselves, nor can we expect to be able to support others if we aren’t well ourselves. Respecting what your body needs and not encouraging unhealthy behaviours goes a long way in shifting the culture on campus towards one that fosters sustainability and mental health.