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Students help shape new approach to health and wellness

 Student Wellness Hub takes an innovative and holistic approach to services

People relax in the Rossy Student Wellness Hub at McGill University

The Peer Support Centre in the new Rossy Student Wellness Hub

: Peer Support Centre

Universities around the world are recognizing the importance of providing more mental health services to their students, and McGill is no different. According to a survey, approximately one quarter of the student body had accessed some form of psychological or mental health service at McGill in the previous year.

To help its students thrive, McGill is implementing a new approach to student wellness anchored by the Student Wellness Hub. Based on best practices and developed with input from students, this $14-million initiative is redesigning the way McGill provides physical and mental health services to students.

“We are committed to engaging in authentic and stigma-free mental health dialogue and to building a new structure for increased access to services and information,” says Christopher Manfredi, McGill’s Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic).

A different approach

The new collaborative approach to health and wellness is funded in part by The Rossy Foundation, a private Montreal-based foundation whose priorities include supporting the needs of young adults in the post-secondary context. Additional funding to support wellness and mental health programs in the Desautels Faculty of Management comes from Gisele and Neil Murdoch, BCom’81.

The new approach provides a broader set of options to students and includes a range of programs in addition to clinical offerings, with the aim of engaging the entire McGill community.

“It’s a more holistic way of looking at students and care,” explains Dr. Vera Romano, director of the new Student Wellness Hub.

“The student is at the centre and is empowered to explore – with care providers – various services and kinds of care to find the best fit.”

Romano was previously the director of Counselling Services. In her new role as director of the Hub, she is tasked with bringing together and streamlining McGill’s health services.

Making access a simpler, integrated process ensures that students don’t have to start over when they reach out to a new service, explains Romano.

“The service areas were doing great things, but they were stand-alone, really separate from each other. Everyone was hungry for an inter-professional Hub,” she says.

The student voice

Students have played a large part in the design of the new approach.

“I cannot overstress the importance and the helpfulness of the student contribution,” says Romano, who sat on the advisory and steering committees with undergraduate and graduate students.

“It feels good to be heard as a student,” says Armaghan Alam BSc’19, former chair of McGill’s Peer Support Centre. “Throughout consultations, we, the students, would point out things, and faculty and staff would say they hadn’t thought of it that way. It’s cool to see it all come together.”

The thriving Peer Support Centre at McGill embodies the new approach and the Hub’s focus on community and collaboration. Eighty volunteers serve about 400 peers a year, or 1% of McGill’s student population. Any McGill student is welcome to visit the centre to talk one-on-one with a trained peer supporter about any topic.

“The confidence and support that we receive from McGill really allows the Centre to provide the service that it does,” says Alam, who’s been volunteering with the Centre for three years.

Jennifer Chen, BSc’16, is a Pharmacology graduate student who also sits on the Hub steering committee. “They wanted our experience of how previous processes worked or didn’t work, and how we could change or keep them.”

Chen is especially looking forward to the Hub’s outreach initiatives. After seeing several peers burn out, she got involved with campus wellness. She doesn’t like the idea that at the graduate level “it’s supposed to be normal to be very stressed. We need to promote a healthy grad school life, and that should be what people strive toward.”

The Student Wellness Hub

The Hub integrates existing services and creates new ways to access them, not only in the Brown Student Services Building where it is physically located, but also online. Additionally, 11 Local Wellness Advisors working directly in the faculties and other units create two-way links between the central Hub and outlying locations.

The physical space of the  Hub is a one-stop-shop for all health and wellness resources, including doctors, nurses, counsellors, dietitians, psychiatrists and advisors. The Hub Commons is an inviting space where students can relax before appointments. The Hub Healthy Living Annex, attached to the Commons, will be dedicated to outreach, promotion and peer-support activities.

And finally, the Virtual Hub acts as a single portal for online health and wellness information. It also serves as the virtual Access Point, eventually allowing students to book appointments online.

Skills for the future

For Romano and others involved with the Hub, the goal is ultimately to equip students with skills they can carry beyond their time at McGill.

“If we look at the science of thriving, these are skills that contribute to ongoing success in life,” says Romano. “We’re doing this to make a better system but also a better community.”