The annual Synergy Mental Health conference, hosted by Students in Mind (SiM), continued the discourse on mental wellness with a particular focus on cultivating a community on campus promoting healthy minds. The conference featured various activities, such as a journal writing workshop and a talk on how to navigate the health care system at McGill and beyond. These workshops facilitated conversations about mental health as well as providing students with the necessary tools to care for the wellbeing of themselves and those in their community. Julia Caddy, U2 Arts and President of SiM, explained the group’s multifaceted approach to addressing mental health challenges.
“[SiM investigates] the dimensions of mental health, we’re not just focussed on [the question] ‘Am I okay?’” Caddy said. “We’ve really focussed on making sure that we connect to all different dimensions so that we are able to create a conference that people are able to customize to their mental health story. We don’t want people to fit our narrative. We want to be fitting theirs.”
This multi-dimensional approach to mental wellness was the inspiration for the theme of this year’s conference: Synergy. With a multitude of speakers and activities catering to all different learning styles and interests, the event was part of SiM’s year-round efforts to offer accessible resources for obstacles to the mental health of students.
“Initiatives like this one are important because it’s really difficult to be a student,” Johanna Cline, U3 Arts and SiM’s VP Communications, said. “[…] You need support, and I feel like a lot of people lack access or don’t know how to access [those resources].”
Dr. Erin Barker, a professor of psychology at Concordia University and the conference keynote speaker, discussed this difficulty. Citing data from an American College Health Association study, Barker noted the high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among university students.
“We see [a] spectrum of distress, stress across large samples of university students,” Barker said. “We need to get over those myths that university students are sort of this privileged healthy class of individuals and start to actually realize that really, […] it can be a distressing experience, and it’s one that large portions of our population are going to have to face.”
With high levels of student stress and inadequate mental health support from the university and the public health care system, SiM hopes to provide students with important resources they may be unable to access elsewhere.
“It’s the school administration that needs to change its healthcare system, […] but the reality is [that the school’s healthcare is not changing] or [it is] not changing fast enough,” Caddy said. “But our struggle doesn’t just wait […] until policies are passed. What […we can] do is to ensure that everyone has the tools they need at the moment and can equip themselves and their peers to cope as a student and advocate for themselves.”
To create a community supporting students’ mental wellbeing all year round, SiM holds events throughout each semester such as Mindful meal preps and a Week of Wellness. For Ellie Brehaug, U3 Psychology, this year’s conference was successful in fostering a supportive student body.
“[Today], I’ve learned that there are other people who are struggling with their mental health,” Brehaug said. “[I discovered] that it’s a common thing to experience in university, which is kind of comforting to know that you’re not alone.”