New draft of mental health strategy developed

Priorities do not include better access to psychological or psychiatric care

Mount Allison’s student life office has completed a draft version of the university’s new mental health strategy. Over the last nine years, mental-health-related physician visits on campus have seen a 152 per cent increase. The mental health strategy will be a living document – meaning it will involve ongoing updates – and student life will implement it in the fall.

The draft is based on framework documents from the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS) and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s post-secondary student mental health guide.

Mental health co-ordinator Karen Geldart took the lead in adapting this framework into a document that applied more specifically to Mt. A. Geldart worked closely with other members of  student life, including vice-president international and student affairs Kim Meade. The draft strategy has been shared with MASU council, various students, the student affairs committee of the Board of Regents, the Senate committee on disabilities, and faculty council.

Fourth-year sociology student Caroline Kovesi, who has spent much time analysing the mental health strategy, said that the strategy “is both incredibly individualistic and neoliberal in nature.”

Kovesi went on to explain that the strategy “focuses on how students are lacking in resilience, emotions regulation and management, and coping skills, which are, at one point, demeaningly referred to as ‘self-soothing skills.’” While Kovesi commends student life for developing a much-needed strategy, she is also worried that the policy sets a precedent of blaming students for their mental health, or lack thereof.

The document provides an overview of current mental health resources, highlights existing gaps and makes recommendations for improvement.

The draft acknowledges that the lack of access to psychiatric services at the Sackville Memorial Hospital, as well as the lack of private practices. Although it is not listed as a priority, the document recommends that the university better address the needs of students for more affordable and frequent access to psychological services. The documents suggests securing funding and coverage for private psychologists, access to psychiatrists and access to a mental health nurse or specialist.

When asked about the lack of accessibility to psychological and psychiatric care, Meade said that a committee was recently struck to look into additional resources for psychology and psychiatry services on campus. As it stands, two psychologists are currently available one day per week, and, according to the document, a third will soon be added. One month into the 2015 academic year, one of the psychologists was fully booked until the end of the semester.

Student life is also working on the development of a protocol to deal with situations in which students are in crisis and at risk of harm to self or others. Meade says the protocol will attempt to answer the question of “how to respond in timely and compassionate way” to emergency situations. A test run is currently in progress, and the protocol will be implemented in the fall.

As of March 22, the mental health strategy, in its draft form, has been available on the student affairs website. Any student wishing to comment on it may contact student life.

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