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Continuing education students seek improved access to mental health services

Continuing education students are seeking to improve their access to McGill’s mental health services due to a lack of access to the university’s resources for part-time students.

The issue is currently under review by the Student Services Office, in collaboration with the dean of Continuing Studies at McGill and the McGill Association of Continuing Studies (MACES).

Mental health services at McGill are currently run under the university’s Student Services unit, funded by an automatic fee for all except continuing education students. These students qualify to opt-in if they are taking at least nine credits; otherwise, they do not have the option of using the university’s mental health resources.

Jana Luker, executive director of Student Services, said students taking fewer credits do not have the option of opting-in because they often have access to other resources outside the university.

“Our services aren’t set up for continuing studies,” she said. “People who are taking one continuing education course, say in the evening, they probably have their own setup in Montreal. I’m assuming most students are working, and therefore have their own infrastructure and access to services.”

However, Amine Arezki, the continuing education studies representative to Senate, said this is not necessarily the case.

“Psychologists are not reimbursed by the government nor by private insurances, so the services that McGill could offer could be the only chance for those students to have access to [mental health] services,” he continued.

The Student Services fee for continuing education students is $141.50 per term.  The full-time undergraduate student fee totals the same amount, although graduate, part-time, medical students and residents, and post-doctoral fellows pay less, as they utilize student services less.

Arezki said that mental health issues are prevalent in continuing education students due to the stresses of school work and day-to-day life.

“[Continuing education] can be challenging, with international students, single mothers [or] fathers, and students juggling school with work, studies, and personal life,” Arezki said. “In a place like McGill where everybody is expected to perform at high level, mental health can easily become an issue.”

According to Luker, a possible solution is the development of a different fee infrastructure to meet the needs of this unique demographic of students.

Luker argued that allowing opt-ins for all continuing education students might not be compatible with their specific needs, because the Student Services fee includes many other resources—such as First People’s House and Career Planning Services—that they may not use.

“Some students in continuing studies wanted to get just access to the mental health services, and not all the services,” Luker said.  “Would their needs be fulfilled under the structure we have?”

Luker also argued that the cost associated with the fee would be unreasonable for students taking fewer courses.

“Continuing studies courses can be less expensive, which is very attractive, especially if you’re only taking one or two courses,” she said. “To put another $140 fee per term, that’s a real difference.”

Arezki proposed a separation of mental health from the other fees.

“I believe that mental health is an essential service,” he said.  “For continuing education students, it should not be put in a package with other non-essential services.”

According to Luker, another potential solution involves creating different services for continuing education students.

“I’ve been trying to assist continuing studies students to set up their own services, so they can sculpt them to what the needs are in a framework they would feel would be useful for them,” Luker said.  “[The Office of Student Services] is there to assist or follow through, whatever they would want.”

Judith Potter, dean of the School of Continuing Studies, asserted her willingness to support review current policies.

“I am, of course, in favour of improvements that would help continuing studies students,” she said. “I would very much like to sit down with MACES and Student Services to discuss the issue and to come up with a solution that works for all.”

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