Food insecurity among post-secondary students

The largest cross-campus study on food insecurity among post-secondary students conducted in Canada, called Hungry for Knowledge, found nearly 39 per cent of students participating during the year-long study experience some form of inadequate access to food.

The survey analyzed the financial barriers causing food insecurity and the negative impacts on physical and mental health, which affects two in five students. The cost of food (52.7 per cent), tuition fees (51.2 per cent), and housing costs (47.5 per cent) were the most common contributors to food insecurity. Socioeconomic status also played a role: Aboriginal and racialized peoples, students who live in residence and students who use government student financial assistance programs experience some of the highest rates of food insecurity.

Erin Barker, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University, did a collaborative report on food insecurity at specific campuses across Canada, including a pool from Concordia University. The results are in line with the Hungry for Knowledge study, and showed that the first-year Concordia students surveyed who have food insecurity are at greater risk for mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and perceived stress in comparison with students who are food secure.

Barker said that to better address food insecurity on campus, more research on the issue has to be conducted. She said different circumstances, such as students who need immediate help for groceries and one who needs a meal to get through the day, would require different methods of assistance. The University may not currently have specific data on how the issue manifests and that would deter the institution from providing the best resources, “we don’t know what the pattern of food security is, to know what the best interventions are.”

One of the initiatives in the Hungry for Knowledge project is the Meal Exchange program, which is a survey program that works directly with a post-secondary university to find data on their specific institution’s food insecurity issues, and show faculty, students and the administration the findings to better address the issue head on.

As of yet, there is no specific department at Concordia for students facing food insecurity issues, but there are several resources available spread across different departments on campus.

The Multi-faith & Spirituality Centre offers the Student Emergency and Food Fund, which are gift cards for Provigo or Maxi for students in financial crisis. Ellie Hummel, Chaplain and Coordinator at the centre, said “the fund is heavily used every year.” Hummel said that many students who come in are facing financial issues such as problems with loan payments, unemployment and personal crisis situations. Most notably for Hummel, a considerable amount of international students seek out the service: “we have a higher percentage of international students [seeking emergency food funds] than we have percentage of international students at Concordia.”

The fund relies on donations accepted from the public and fundraising efforts. Hummel said that the exercise of giving voluntary donations from the Concordia community to the students is a privilege for her. She added that she often tells students receiving the donations, “this is money, but it also comes with encouragement and a real desire for you to succeed.”

Another resource is the Emergency Meal Plan provided by the Concordia Community Health Services, where different departments at Concordia, such as the Aboriginal Centre, Financial Aid and the Campus Wellness Clinic, can fill out a form after identifying a student facing food insecurity and $100 is uploaded onto their student card.

Anne-Marie Lanctôt, manager at the Concordia University Community Health Services said there has been a significant increase in the use of the program: in 2019, the program provided $6,000 for students compared to $1,100 in 2015.

For immediate daily food needs, there are soup kitchens across campus providing food for free or on a by-donation basis.

The People’s Potato is a vegan soup kitchen at the downtown campus where students can line up from Monday to Friday, 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. At the Loyola campus, The Hive Free Lunch program offers free vegan, wheat-free and nut-free meals for everyone, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Both kitchens operate during the Fall and Winter semesters.


Stock photos from Pexels

Student Life

In the dark about Concordia’s student services?

Here’s a roundup of many services and resources Concordia has to offer that can help make your life both inside and outside of the classroom go more smoothly and be more manageable.


Student Success Centre

The Student Success Centre is a catalyst for resources available to students aiming to improve their academic career or life afterwards, with the help of their Learning Support resources or the Career and Planning Services (CAPS).

One of the available resources are Learning and Study Skill Specialists that can help with preparing for assignments (note-taking, oral presentations, exams), doing assignments (reading, writing, math), as well as other areas relating to school, such as anxiety, help with learning in a second language, and time management. Peer tutors are also an available resource that can be accessed through the university.

If you are unable or unwilling to meet with someone in person, there are handouts for various topics that you can download and print from the comfort of your own home. Additionally, handouts are also available for problem-solving (math), different methods to improve or adjust your learning habits (strategies to improve concentration, to improve your memory, etc.), tips for being successful in online classes, and even handouts that are specific to those applying to or already are in graduate school.

If you function and learn better in a group setting, there are organized study groups for certain courses already in place such as for ECON 201, 203 and 221. There are also countless workshops offered for a variety of topics throughout the course of the semester: learning strategies, exam strategies, business, engineering and computer science study skills, and writing and research tips.

If you feel like your studies and learning are on a good path and you want to start thinking about life after school, CAPS can help you to figure out which career can work with your degree or help find an internship within your field. They can offer help with your job search, give career counseling, and host career events, workshops and job fairs. CAPS also has an entire guide dedicated to cultivating and improving your interview skills, various guides as well as drop-in times/appointments to help with resumés and cover letters, and multiple sources to inform you about salaries, benefits and employers within the field you want.


Financial Wellness

Are you concerned about money? Concordia also has resources available, either through helping you achieve financial wellness or with bursaries, scholarships and loans. If you’re stressed about how you’ll be able to pay for your life while in school, Concordia’s website is full of hidden treasures to help you out. From giving tips on how to make and manage a budget, to how to responsibly use a credit card and how to understand banking and financial institutions. If it all becomes a giant blur, you can visit the Financial Aid & Awards Office for more advice on how to attain financial wellness.


Campus Wellness & Support Services 

Concordia’s health services include a vast array of resources. Medical services include being able to book an appointment or receive urgent care from either a doctor or nurse, depending on what you need. You are also able to receive vaccinations, pass a variety of tests such as pregnancy, urine, pap, blood, STI, etc., or obtain a medical note for school or work if you meet specific criteria. You can find a verified source list for various aches, pains, infections, general non-serious ailments, etc. as well as information on how to improve and maintain your overall health, such as eating healthy, being physically active, managing your stress and mental health, sleeping, and practicing safe sex.

While physical health is important, it’s not the only kind – it includes spiritual and mental health as well. Concordia’s health and wellness resources include counselling and psychological services where you can meet individually with counsellors or attend groups and workshops. Online, there is also a PDF available with crises/after hours resources and a web page available with even more resources for mental health services.


Access Centre for Students with Disabilities

Concordia has an Access Centre for Students with Disabilities. Online, you can find information on who can apply and how; examples include: “vision, mobility, hearing, chronic medical conditions, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, mental health conditions, Autism Spectrum Disorder and other Neurodevelopmental Disorders.” You can get advising, attend workshops, participate in the peer note-taking program, have access to government funding, have your textbooks and course packs converted to accessible formats, benefit from transportation accessibility, and more.


Birks Student Service Centre

If you’re looking to obtain documents or information about them, the Birks Student Service Centre can help. Located in the J.W. McConnell Building (LB 185), you can request and obtain documents such as official forms and letters, transcripts, get a student ID or OPUS card, pay tuition and fees or request refunds, obtain information about studying in Quebec as a non-resident, and so much more.

If this resource roundup still leaves you questioning what you should do or what help you need, Concordia’s Navigator program allows you to connect to a staff member or experienced student who can help connect you to the right resources.


Graphics by Alexa Hawksworth and ZeZe Lin

Student Life

My personal experience with anorexia

One Concordia student talks about her struggles with body dysmorphia and self-esteem

At 14, I was diagnosed with anorexia.

It all started during the summer of 2008. My family and I often visited the Old Port and went to see movies together. During these family outings, whenever I wore a tight-fitting T-shirt, my sisters and brother would comment on my belly fat. I started to feel extremely self-conscious. “You need to stop eating junk food because you are getting fat,” they would tell me.

Thinking back, yes, I had gained a bit of weight in my stomach area, but I wasn’t overweight. Yet back then, I was disgusted with myself. I would stand in front of the mirror and push my belly in, hoping it would just disappear.

People sometimes don’t realize how the things they say can hurt someone. I felt as if there was something wrong with me because of my obsessive thoughts about my body, my weight and my physical features.

I just wanted to feel “normal,” and feel good about myself. When I started grade eight that September, I slowly stopped eating—I used to skip breakfast and lunch. At night, I would only eat a small snack, like an apple or yogurt, just so that my stomach would not growl all night.

I used to admire the models in magazines, and I wanted more than anything to look like them. I wanted to be skinny—I equated that to being pretty.

I also equated skinniness to being healthy. But at 15, my family doctor told me my skinniness was far from healthy. At 5’2, I weighed only 90 pounds. “You need to start eating or else you’ll die,” he told me. That was my wake-up call. He made me keep a food journal to keep track of my eating habits, and to make sure I was eating.

He also advised my mom to watch me, to make sure I was eating three meals a day. At that time, I was getting bullied at school. People would say I was too skinny and ugly. Those were the darkest days of my life. I felt frustrated when my mom started supervising me. However, even though she had never given me emotional support, I knew this was her way of showing she cared about me. My brother used to call me names because I was skinny. My second sister was actively supporting my recovery, though.

The second wake-up call was when my eldest sister cried. “You are malnourished, I can tell just by looking at you,” she said. At that point, somewhere deep down, I knew I wanted to get better. I wanted to be in good health.

At 16, after over a year of following a strict food regimen, I attained a healthy body weight. I was eating healthy and exercising, so not only was I in my healthy weight range, but I was also getting fit. During my recovery, I started swimming. It was very therapeutic for me, a kind of escape.

I was proud of myself: I was eating well, exercising and overcoming the things that had been tearing me down. At first, it was hard to not hate my own body. After every meal, I felt fat. But when I started gaining a healthier weight, I looked at myself in the mirror, in a swimsuit, and I felt beautiful.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about my experience, it would be that life is short—it’s better to live a long healthy life than die young because of anorexia. You should never feel ashamed of your body. You are beautiful. Health is beautiful. Happiness is beautiful. Always remember that you are not alone and that you are worthy.

If you are feeling down about your self-image, or experiencing obsessive thoughts about your weight, body or food, please speak up or call for help.

Graphic by Thom Bell

Student Life

A Concordia service to help you talk it out

Concordia launches a new emotional health coaching service for students

Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services office launched a new emotional health coaching service for Concordia students dealing with emotional turmoil.

SOS for Your Emotional Health is a series of six weekly private group sessions taking place from Sept. 19 to Oct. 31.  The series’ goal is to help students with stress management, anxiety and depression, and dealing with other difficult emotions.

“We live in a very anxious world,” counsellor Eric Widdicombe told The Concordian.  Widdicombe runs the program with colleague and fellow psychologist, Jewel Perlin. “People have a hard time being able to self-soothe and self-regulate, and they’re looking for ways to do that,” Widdicombe said.

Each seminar aims to teach the group a new skill set related to dealing with mental health.  In a recent session, the facilitators presented the topic of mindfulness, which is defined as a firm grounding in the present, in current feelings and sensations, rather than a preoccupation with the past or future.  At the session, “the participants had to eat chocolate slowly and mindfully, to taste it as if for the first time,” said Widdicombe.  This exercise emphasizes staying centered, and focused on the present.  Previous seminar topics included emotional regulation and stress tolerance.

“I realized I was depressed when it occurred to me that my behaviour was changing, and that the changes had a negative impact on those around me,” one anonymous seminar participant told The Concordian. “I heard about [the group] from the counsellor I was meeting with through the counselling services.”  The participant said the group’s dynamic was welcoming and encouraging.  “I find we all get along very well and there’s a lot of respect for boundaries, so if someone is having a bad week or doesn’t want to engage in friendly banter, nobody pushes them … Overall, I feel better. I feel that I’m more able to take charge of situations that would previously have overwhelmed me and left me feeling hopeless,” they said.

This program is an addition to the resources already offered by Concordia’s Counselling and Psychological Services. The triage system offers drop-in and by-appointment evaluations, that determine which students can begin regular sessions with a counsellor. Other services include support groups for shyness, mindfulness and even perfectionism.

“Across universities, there’s a trend that more and more students are presented with more difficult problems,” said Widdicombe. “So there’s a lot more students and the ones that are [distressed] have more severe mental health problems or challenges.” He cited the expanding role of technology in recent years as a major factor in emotional distress.

Widdicombe said poor sleep habits, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating are all signs of chronic emotional distress. While Widdicombe is concerned about these increased instances of emotional problems, he said he remains optimistic. “I think there’s less stigma about mental illness and seeking help for it, so people are willing to come to our service and they don’t have any bones about it.”

The group started in September, and is not currently open to new participants. However, Widdicombe said the group will likely run again, perhaps as early as this winter.

Widdicombe’s main suggestion for those struggling with difficult emotions is “to seek out help—to come to triage to see what groups we offer, and to know that there’s support out there.”

Information on all services is available on the Counselling and Psychological Services webpage, which is accessible through MyConcordia under the heading “Student Services.”

Graphic by Thom Bell


Health Services face uncertain times

Doctors could take 30 per cent pay cut if Bill 20 stipulations remain unmet

The doctors at Concordia’s Health Services clinics may be affected by provisions in the provincial government’s new health care legislation, Bill 20, that could see their income cut by as much as 30 per cent.

The figures, quoted by both The Gazette and CTV, relate to the consequences of not meeting the bill’s provisions stipulating the number of patients doctors see regularly and the number of hours they spend working in a hospital.

To avoid any reduction of their income, doctors would have to balance the number of patients in their practice with the number of hours they work in a hospital or other public health establishment—like Concordia’s clinic.

It’s unclear if hours spent in Concordia’s clinic would count towards the requirements set in Bill 20.

“I don’t know how the bill works, I don’t think anybody is clear on how that is going to be implemented,” said Concordia’s director of media relations Chris Mota. “Do we fall into any of those categories? I don’t know.”

The role of students as patients is slightly more clear. “As for students, we believe yes, it would count for their target,” said Joanne Beauvais, the Minister of Health’s press attaché.

Bill 20 establishes a target number of patients for each doctor based on how long they have been practicing and how many hours they work in a hospital or clinic. The targets are as low as zero—for doctors in the very beginning and very end of their careers—and as high as 1500 patients, for doctors who have been practicing for 25 to 34 years. However, the targets are flexible. The letter noted that, for example, a doctor with 10 years of experience who worked more than the required number of hours in a hospital would have a lower target number of patients—750 patients rather than 1000 patients.

Unlike the nurses and health promotions specialists at the clinics, doctors are not Concordia employees. “They are here because they choose to come here,” Mota said. “They are independent of the university.”

Instead of being hired, Mota explained, doctors who want to work at the clinic sign a one-year contract with the university that can be indefinitely extended, circumstances permitting. Some doctors have their contract renewed many times—one has been working in the clinic for 10 years. Others just work at the clinic for a year before moving on.

Most Concordia students may not immediately notice any direct effects of Bill 20. “We will wait and see how this plays out and if there is any kind of an impact,” Mota said.

She went on to say that the provincially-mandated funding cuts to university budgets have not affected Health Services any more than other parts of the university.

“Are they affected? Probably, the same way that everybody else is. Certainly, they are not singled out in any way.”

No Health Services personnel chose to leave during the recent Voluntary Departure Program which ended in November.

Even if students don’t notice a change in on-campus health services, both supporters and detractors of the bill believe that effects will be felt widely across the province.

Some doctors’ groups believe Bill 20 will lower the quality of medical care.

The Quebec Federation of General Practitioners has an ongoing petition that calls for the bill to be scrapped. “Bill 20 would put an unheard of concentration of power in the hands of the health minister, and bring punitive consequences that go against Quebec values,” the petition states.

The provincial government believes Bill 20 will increase the number of people with a family physician as they are forced to work hours outside hospital settings and also decrease the number of people making unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

“Bill 20 sends a clear signal,” wrote Health Minister Gaétan Barrette in a letter sent out to doctors in the province. “This is not to abandon hospital practice, but to restore the balance between it and the work in the office. … Put simply, we do not ask doctors to change their daily rhythm of work, we simply ask them to maintain this pace five days a week.”

Bill 20 would also restrict the use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to women under the age of 42 who have undergone psychological testing. In 2010, Quebec became the first province to cover IVF as part of provincial health insurance.

Consultations are expected to continue concerning Bill 20 before a final vote is taken in the National Assembly.


Exit mobile version