According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), it is a problem that plagues an estimated 10-20% of the youth population of Canada. Perhaps as a reaction to this staggering statistic, discussions of issues surrounding mental and neurological health have been gaining traction over the past several years, with campaigns like “Bell Let’s Talk” and “Elephant in the Room” receiving national coverage and widespread support.
The topic has even spread to university campuses, and McGill is no exception. As a result of these discussions, the university recently increased funding to McGill Counselling Services, enabling them to remove the fees associated with access to counselling. Additionally, McGill has formed an ad-hoc committee under SSMU to address mental health, and continues to improve the services offered through the Office of Students with Disabilities to accommodate the changing needs of students.
Now, two McGill students, Freddy Lee (U1 Cognitive Sciences) and Matt Gynn (U1 Pharmacology) have taken the initiative to plan what they believe is the next step for combating mental health and neurological issues. In an effort to provide financial support to struggling students, Lee and Gynn co-founded The MIND Project, an organization that seeks to raise funds for a scholarship, given to McGill students dealing with these issues.
“We started because we noticed that there are a lot of mental health and neurological issues that have been overlooked…. we wanted something to support this issue, either financially or morally, but, we couldn’t find anything like that at McGill,” explained Lee, whose brother runs a similar scholarship initiative for visually impaired students at Dalhousie University.
While support services such as McGill Counseling Services and the Office for Students with Disabilities work hard to accommodate varying student needs, financial assistance for students is still limited. And for Lee and Gynn, it is something that can potentially be a direct cause of the very issues students face.
“It sounds like things are getting a lot better in terms of counseling and support, but maybe one thing that might still be contributing to depression is finances constantly worrying students,” Gynn explained. “So something like a scholarship – which doesn’t exist yet – can improve things even further.”
The project currently has roughly 25 consistent members, in addition to an executive council. However, Lee highlights that there is no hierarchy, and contribution is encouraged from everyone. “We try to emphasize this with our members; anyone in the group can start their own project. If they want to do something to raise money or to raise awareness, they can head their own thing and we can support them.”
The team has reached out to various platforms on campus, including departmental councils and other campus clubs such as Unleash the Noise. These clubs facilitate speaker series’ and conferences on the topic of mental health issues. One major source of help has come, interestingly enough, from on-campus administrative services.
“We talked to McGill Mental Health and they’re on board to help us define who should be eligible for the scholarship. As a student it’s very hard to make that decision; there’s such a wide range of mental health issues and neurological disabilities,” Gynn explained. “It’s very hard to decide which ones should be applicable to scholarships. We didn’t want to have that on our plate and there are a bunch of confidentiality issues with that, so they’re going to help us with regards to that.”
Once the framework of eligibility has been determined, Lee and Gynn plan to collaborate with the OSD in finding eligible candidates. Seventy percent of the office’s students suffer from either mental issues or neurological disorders. The team is also in the process of contacting the Scholarships Office to figure out how the scholarship should be coordinated. While Lee and Gynn plan an initial $500 scholarship to be presented to one student next year, they maintain high hopes that the project will raise enough money so that the fund will benefit several more in the future.
To achieve this, the team has already planned its first big fundraising event for March 21st at Club IVY. Aptly named “The MIND Games,” it will feature a series of fun activities for teams of 6 to 8 people, followed by a party. With general admission set at $8, and participation in the games set at $15 per person, the duo hope it will be the first big step in getting The MIND Project on McGill students’ radars. Still, they acknowledge it’s just the beginning, and there is a lot of hard work ahead to fulfill all their aspirations for the initiative.
“As a long-term plan, we want to hopefully have enough money in a bank account that through just interest, a scholarship can be given out every year, even if nobody wants to keep the project going,” Gynn stated. “And if people do keep the project going, all of the fundraising they do each year can provide more scholarships for students, just to make it last as long as possible.”
On a broader scale, Lee and Gynn understand the importance of addressing mental health beyond the context of university campuses. “When you get sick and you have to stay in, your friends understand that. We want it to be on the same level, where if that happened [with mental health], people just completely understood that it’s totally normal and there’s no level of judgment,” Lee explained. “And on top of that, they would know that if they are suffering from these issues, there is something there to help them.”
In fact, the two hope to continue their involvement in the fight against mental health stigma even after they graduate. “For me, I find the more we keep pushing this forward, the more amazing the possibilities are. We want to have this be successful at McGill, but we want to see it spread past McGill as well. And I definitely see that as something I want to be working on once it has hit the point where everyone knows about it… whether that be while we’re at McGill or once we’re finished,” Gynn explained. “I don’t want to see it die just because we graduate. At least two more years of our time is invested in it, and it’s not something you can just spend that much time on and then let go.”
“I think even after I graduate I would like to stay in the loop with the MIND Project, even if I’m not there all the time to keep it going. I would like to help raise awareness for mental health and well-being and foster a more supportive community,” concluded Lee. “I think that’s really what everyone should be working towards.”
If you are interested in learning more about The MIND Project and how to get involved, you can visit the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MINDMcGill. You can also visit https://www.facebook.com/events/509930335794203/ for more information on The MIND Games and to purchase tickets.