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Editorial: Concordia can do better to help its students

We’ve all been there. And if we haven’t, we know someone who has. As students, we expect to feel nervous, stressed, anxious and even depressed at some point during our studies. As school, work and other responsibilities pile up, it can be difficult to reach out to mental health professionals and care for yourself.

With the numerous resources they have, depending on their financial capabilities, universities often emphasize that students should reach out with mental health concerns about themselves or others. But what happens when more people are reaching out than there are hands being offered?

If you’ve tried to access the Counselling and Psychological Services at Concordia, you might be familiar with the long wait times and lack of availability. At the end of last semester, Concordia’s Fine Arts Students Alliance (FASA) conducted a Mental Health and Wellness Survey. According to The Concordian, FASA coordinators noticed that common concerns included long wait times and a lack of communication about mental health services at Concordia. The coordinators will present the survey results in April and propose initiatives to better address students’ needs, according to the same article.

Concordia does, however, offer free sessions and workshops on stress management, self-confidence, and other topics. Posters about mental health can be seen around campus as well. Even so, there are only 14 mental health professionals listed on the Counselling and Psychological Services website. This isn’t proportionate with Concordia’s 45,000 students.

According to The Montreal Gazette, many Canadian universities have been dealing with increasing demands for better mental health support on campus. A 2016 National College Health Assessment found that 44 per cent of the 43,780 Canadian higher-education students surveyed felt too depressed to function, while 65 per cent experienced overwhelming anxiety, according to The Globe and Mail. The assessment found these two figures had increased from 2013, where 38 per cent were depressed and 57 per cent had anxiety.

According to Maclean’s, 51.8 per cent of Concordia University students felt overwhelmed on a daily or weekly basis. It is clear there is a need for mental health support, but what can Concordia do to meet this demand? Firstly, we at The Concordian would like to see the university invest in and promote more student-run initiatives, of which there are multiple. In an email sent to fine arts students by FASA on Feb. 20, the alliance outlined various services offered by student groups and the university. The email referenced the Concordia Student Union’s 24-hour mental health hotline, Empower Me, the Concordia Art Hive, an open space in the EV building where students are free to create and heal through art-making, and the Concordia Students’ Nightline, a student-run organization that offers confidential support on Friday and Saturday nights.

While we at The Concordian don’t want to dismiss everything the university has done to better promote mental health for its students, we can’t deny that the administration could do better in promoting the varied services available.

There are students trying to help each other through these difficult times, but their efforts don’t reach many of the people who need support. We at The Concordian know first-hand that many students weren’t familiar with the resources offered on campus until they read about them in our newspaper or heard about them through a friend. We believe the university must better address the struggles its student body faces with mental health. It could be as simple as including a list of services on every syllabus.

Mental Health services offered at Concordia include:

  • 24-hour confidential and multilingual hotline, Empower Me (1-844-741-6389)
  • Counselling and Psychological Services on both campuses in rooms GM-200 and AD-103
  • The Zen Den, a calm public space offered at the Counselling and Psychological Services office, which is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • The Concordia Art Hive, offered in EV-5.777 on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The Concordia Students’ Nightline, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. (514-437-9797)
  • A meditation room in the downtown office of the Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre in the Z Annex on Mackay St.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

Categories
Student Life

Encouraging the well-being of students

A creative arts workshop day will be held as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week

Connectedness, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment make up the acronym Chime In, which is a recently created student services group. “Our mandate is to help students better understand what the services are [at Concordia], how to access them and let them know what they do have access to,” said Alia Nurmohamed, a student representative at Chime In. “We are here for you. If you need something, there is always a willing hand to help.”

According to Nurmohamed, it can be very daunting to ask someone for help when starting at a new school. The vast service networks at universities can be confusing, particularly for students fresh out of CEGEP or high school. It’s not that the [services] are hard to access, but sometimes it’s hard to navigate and the information isn’t always easy to find,” Nurmohamed said. “So having some place or some people who are always there to better direct students is a good goal to have.”

The group began in May 2017 and consists of students representatives Nurmohamed and Jade Se; Howard Magonet, the director of Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services; Jillian Ritchie, an outreach coordinator from AMI Quebec; and Alexis Lahorra, a student representative and youth mental health advocate for the mental health awareness student group Jack.org.

Chime In will be hosting a day of creative arts workshops on Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Library Building auditorium as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week. “To have a day of creative arts workshops speaks to everyone,” Nurmohamed said. “I personally believe that we all have our natural talents. Some of us naturally love music, reading—we all have these aspects in our lives that we turn to fulfill us, to sustain us.”

The various groups from Campus Wellness and Support Services will be present at the workshops, including Counselling and Psychological Services, Jack.org, AMI Quebec and Multi-Faith and Spirituality Centre. “There will be a Chime In member to help direct and talk to people—all of us are going to be there for this one purpose to raise awareness for mental health and well-being,” she said.

The event will feature five different workshops, one of which will be given by La Ruche, a community art studio created by Concordia’s creative arts therapy department. A large amount of art supplies for painting, drawing and sculpting will be made available to workshop participants. There will also be a creative writing workshop allowing participants to create their own graphic novel. “When you are writing for your well-being, it can be so deeply introspective, reflective and very personal—I think art and writing intersects in so many beautiful ways,” Nurmohamed said.

CJLO has prepared a silent disco as part of the music workshop where people can tune in to the radio with their smartphones, pop in their headphones and groove however they feel like in the moment. For those who enjoy physical relaxation, there will be a session of chair yoga. If you’re a fan of Concordia’s pet therapy program that takes place during midterm and finals, there will be a workshop offering some relaxing play time with a number of dogs. Cupcakes will also be provided at the event.

In addition to the workshops, there will be a banner where people can leave their own message of what well-being means for them. The banner will then be placed in common areas around campus. “Other students will be able to see what well-being means to their peers and just how much it touches every one of us all the time,” Nurmohamed said.

According to Nurmohamed, when people think of services at Concordia, they often think of health services in terms of physical bodily functions. “There is much more to that. Your well-being is every aspect of you—it is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual,” she said.

In order to fill in the gaps in the university’s services, Chime In student representative Jade Se is leading a new initiative called the Concordia Student Nightline. This active listening service will add to the similar services by other groups at Concordia. This student nightline will be available as a hotline for students to call and obtain well-being services at night and on the weekends.

Nurmohamed said students can access active listening services during the day from Counselling and Psychological Services and peer support at the Centre for Gender Advocacy and the Multi-Faith and Spirituality Centre. “But what happens at night? Or over the weekend?” she asked. Jack.org is among the other campus groups looking to better the well-being of students. The group often hosts social events like poetry slams, open mic nights and parties.

The university’s Counselling and Psychological Services also offer students access to eight sessions with a registered therapist. According to Nurmohamed, you can go through a 15-minute psychological triage, where you can talk to a professional and get some help, support, tools and resources.

“That’s what I like about Concordia—they never forget their students,” Nurmohamed said. “I’ve never met a group of administrators who are so willing to help all the time. Everyone that I have talked to about doing this, about the organization of this event, every group on campus is so for it. They just want to help. It’s a great way to remind people that we are here for you.”

All workshops are free and will take place on Thursday Oct. 5 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in Concordia University’s Library Building auditorium.

Graphic courtesy of Alia Nurmohamed

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