Student Wellness Hub plans to offer hybrid in-person and virtual services in fall 2021

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, McGill University Student Wellness Center has adapted its services to an online format. With in-person learning on hiatus for the year, counseling appointments have been held remotely and wellness activities, such as arts nights and behavioral therapy sessions, are being conducted via Zoom. The McGill Tribune reviewed how the wellness center is preparing to return to in person services.

Between November and December 2020, student rights researcher and advocacy commissioner (SRRAC) Adrienne Tessier interviewed 393 students about their experiences during the pandemic to inform the SSMU on how to meet student needs in the upcoming semester. Although the results of this study are pending, Tessier and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice President (VP) University Affairs (AU) Brooklyn Frizzle shared some preliminary results with The McGill Tribune. About 85 percent of respondents experienced “Zoom fatigueof online learning and 85% of students reported burnout.

At the start of the fall 2020 semester, appointments with healthcare professionals were moved online in response to the evolving COVID-19 situation in Montreal and relied on virtual platforms like Zoom , Mapleand Dialogue. One-to-one appointments with Wellness Center counselors have also been arranged virtually via online platforms. Beginning in the fall 2021 semester, the wellness center plans to provide support through a hybrid system of virtual and in-person services.

“We look forward to bringing as many services back to campus as possible as soon as public health guidelines permit,” said Frédérique Mazerolle, media relations officer, on behalf of McGill University. “In addition to our in-person services, we hope to continue offering virtual supports, as they have been very well received.”

A virtual tool that will remain in the hybrid system is Protect mea free online mental health app available 24/7 through the My SSP website that connects students to counselors. According to Mazerolle, Keep.meSAFE will continue to be offered in fall 2021 due to its broad accessibility. Frizzle also noted that Keep.meSAFE has proven reliable during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has made health care inaccessible to many students […] and Keep.meSAFE ha[s] been useful for […] students abroad,” Frizzle wrote.

Wellness Center staff are currently discussing which services should continue to be offered remotely and which should take place in person. SSMU Mental Health Commissioner Julia Caddy said the Society is advocating for online resources to remain as the survey has found them effective in reducing wait times and expanding accessibility.

“The biggest initiative moving forward really has to be communicating the opportunities available to students, both in terms of programs available at school [Wellness] Hub [and] unique resources throughout the community,” Caddy said.

As research has shown, the mental health of students has suffered over the past year. Caddy mentioned that during the winter 2021 semester, the volume of students seeking help from the Wellness Hub was higher than manageable.

“It is no secret that the mental health services of the [Wellness] Hub and in our wider community are currently being pushed to capacity,” Caddy said. “In fact, they were already before the pandemic. We really hope [raise awareness about] the wide range of health promotion activities, group opportunities, and more than the [Wellness] Hub has to offer.

In addition to publicizing the mental health programs offered by the Wellness Center, SSMU Mental Health is currently investigating other possible long-term solutions to the mental health needs of students.

“A real solution requires working at a systemic level to create supportive environments in our daily lives, to equip individuals and those around them with the skills to manage and respond to mental health [needs]”Caddy said.

Perry A. Thomasson