Focus group on mental health accommodations held on campus

Last week, several students, in collaboration with the Meighen Centre, organized a focus group to ask for student input on mental health accommodations at Mount Allison.

Matt Maston, disability services advisor for the Meighen Centre, said that students, faculty and staff have been asking questions about the support offered to students with mental health challenges and illness.

“There are some concerns about the strategies of how to support these people and what that looks like. For those reasons, we thought it made sense to speak to students,” Maston said. “They also have a perspective that is unique from faculty and staff, and it is important to tap into that resource.”

Melissa Baxter, Mount Allison’s mental health educator, said that she wanted to hear what students are saying and find out how to best work with students, faculty and staff to offer better support.

“Whether you have a diagnosed mental illness or not, or if you’re just having a bad day, we all need to understand that we can be experiencing varying degrees of mental health, depending on what we are going through,” Baxter said.

Baxter said that although the community is making progress and there is more awareness about mental health issues and illness on campus, we still need to work on creating a campus community where we can talk as openly about mental health as we do about physical health.

Caroline Kovesi, fifth-year sociology student and facilitator at the focus group, said that she generally finds she has to prove that her mental illness is really bad in order to get accommodations.

“I feel that I have to go to a professor’s office when I am in tears and in a lot of distress in order for them to see that I really need an accommodation. That puts me in a really vulnerable position and it is not comfortable,” she said. “I do not enjoy it, but I feel when I email and say I am very anxious and having trouble with an assignment, I don’t really tend to receive accommodations.

“I am, for the most part, able to go see my profs, but a lot of people aren’t, and receiving accommodations for mental health shouldn’t be dependent on that [ability],” Kovesi continued.

Maston said other initiatives were in the works to offer better support to students with mental health issues.

“We are looking at having a workshop or discussion with faculty and staff and using some of the general data we received from students,” Maston said. He added that the Meighen Centre is also looking at putting out a student survey that will offer more data.

There will also be a panel on March 8, with representation from students, faculty and staff. Maston said panelists will discuss mental health issues, illness and accommodations.

The information gathered at the focus group will be used to help educate professors on how to create more inclusive courses and classrooms and better accommodate and support students with mental health issues and illness.

According to the details posted on the Facebook event, the focus group held this past week was confidential. All answers and experiences shared will be kept anonymous and confidential if used in the development of resources for professors.

Kavana Wa Kilele