Trying to Keep Sane
08 Dec, 2013
Navigating your way through McGill Mental Health Services
by Caroline Corbett-Thompson
Almost everyone has a horror story concerning McGill’s Mental Health and/or counselling services. This is how it usually starts: you visit the office hoping to find kind words of solace, but all you get is a psychology PhD student putting in their hours, taping your whole breakdown, and then telling you kindly that you should do yoga. “Have you tried hot yoga?” “No.” “Well, you should. It would release all that tension in you.”
Helpful? No. Infuriatingly unhelpful? Definitely.
With finals approaching, mental health and counselling services are being flooded with students dealing with their pre-finals anxiety. They are either put on an endless wait-list or forced to content themselves with a short 45-minute session. This article aims to help readers understand what the McGill Mental Health and Counselling services do and what to expect from them. After all, when it comes to dealing with these services, every little piece of information helps.
McGill Counselling Service prides itself on it’s “we help you discover what is wrong now, so you can prevent it later” psychological approach. In other words, their approach is to focus on a person’s potential for personal growth and then help them build the skills and tools to attain psychological stability. This takes place through a series of one-on-one conversation sessions, for which students can sign up by booking an appointment. The Counselling Service also offers a number of workshops and group counselling opportunities on public speaking and self-motivation, support groups for international students, and how to cope with your overwhelming amount of schoolwork. One of the more popular workshops is the PACE program, offered through CaPS, designed to help students find out where they fit in the professional world through a series of pep-talks and personality tests. Ultimately, Counselling Service is only helpful if you are willing to accept the help.
The McGill Mental Health Service (MMHS) is tucked away deep in the mysterious West Wing of the Brown Building, and you literally have to go through every other medical help desk before you reach Mental Health. This service is designed for students who are dealing with diagnosable conditions, such as depression, ADHD, substance abuse, rehabilitating anxiety or eating disorders. It offers professional help from psychiatrists, who will be able to prescribe you the appropriate medication. Similar to Counselling, emergency drop-ins are available at MMHS, but the waiting list to book a regular appointment is ridiculously long. That being said, it is easier to get an appointment there if you have a referral from another psychiatrist.
The main problem with MMHS and McGill Counselling Service is that they are severely underfunded, which only reinforces its inaccessibility. Even if you do secure a drop-in appointment, it isn’t even certain that you will see the same counsellor again. As you self-consciously watch your counsellor scribble down notes about you, you cannot help but wonder where all of those pages are going. Is there a file somewhere with my name on it?
You came to seek help in what you hope is a safe and trustworthy space, where you can be honest as you seek an unbiased professional opinion. You don’t need to know your counsellor’s name; you just need to trust them. The world of Mental Health is strange and unique like that. As you divulge all your deepest and darkest anxieties to them, you expect to have the trust reciprocated, and hope your file is being properly taken care of.
Earlier this week, Principal Suzanne Fortier said, “There is hardly a topic that deserves more attention than mental health.” Student in Mind, a conference on mental health at McGill that happened earlier this semester, commented on how in the past year MMHS has handled 995 emergency drop-ins, with 91 percent of drop-ins feeling overwhelmed by stress, 40 percent dealing with or rehabilitating from depression, and a staggering 7 percent having seriously considered suicide. These are frightening numbers, which McGill should be even more aware of. Student in Mind helps promote this important issue, advocating for a peer support network and organizing multiple conferences on the topic of mental wellness. Through raising awareness about the issue of Mental Health, revamping the MMHS system, and allocating more funding to these services, MMHS and our sanity will be on the path to recovery.