SRA meeting on Jan. 29 involved discussions on the role of the Ombuds Office, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the MSU rejoining CASA.
he Student Representative Assembly meeting 22M took place on Jan. 29 in Gilmour Hall. In this meeting, the assembly covered the accessibility and services of the Ombuds Office, the initiatives being pushed by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and a motion for the McMaster Students Union to have observer status on the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
University Ombuds Carolyn Brendon and Assistant Ombuds Meghan Rego attended the SRA meeting and spoke on the role of the Ombuds Office and the services it offers to McMaster University students.
The Ombuds Office representatives as a part of an outreach initiative to help the university better understand the role of the office within the community.
The Ombuds Office is located at MUSC 210 and offers free and confidential counseling to all members of the McMaster community. Brendan explained that the mandate of the Ombuds details three key principles by which their practices abide by — independence, impartiality and confidentiality.
The Ombuds Office operates outside of the academic and administrative hierarchy and strives for minimal institutional impediments. They also abide by standard confidentiality principles, in which all information discussed is confidential unless there is an imminent risk of harm.
The Ombuds Office deals with academic and non-academic issues, including student financial matters, behavioral and professional codes of conduct, employment and any other student-related issues and concerns.
OUSA President Jessica Look and executive director Malika Dhanani also spoke at the SRA meeting about their organization. OUSA is a collaboration of student governments across the province that advocates for affordable, accessible, accountable and high quality post-secondary education.
Some of the core functions of OUSA include developing informed substantive policy papers, lobbying the provincial government to enact changes and representing the student perspective on the provincial level.
Look and Dhanani detailed how they aim to uplift the student voice through their blog, where student contributors outside of OUSA are free to submit pieces on policy issues they are passionate about. Additionally, OUSA offers summer student internships.
Following the discussion on OUSA’s initiatives and role representing the MSU, the meeting transitioned to other matters, including a discussion around seeking observership with CASA.
The motion to discuss and vote on CASA observership was moved by MSU President Simranjeet Singh and seconded by Vice President (Education) Elizabeth Wong. Singh shared that CASA is currently the largest body that does advocacy work for student unions at the federal level.
The MSU is currently part of a separate federal advocacy organization, the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities. Singh explained that with UCRU, the MSU was able to meet with 20 Members of Parliament during lobbying week, while members of CASA were able to meet with 156. The MSU was a member of CASA in the past but left in 2017 due to issues with their management of affairs.
Singh and Wong are proposing CASA observership, a two-year process in which the MSU would attend meetings and try out a CASA membership. Observership would allow the MSU to make an informed decision about whether shifting to CASA involvement would be beneficial.
Observership can be revoked at any point with no consequence and the MSU would remain with UCRU throughout the observership. Following some discussion, the motion was passed with 26 in favour, zero opposed and two abstaining.
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I will admit that I am a hypochondriac. The slightest suspicion has me out the door and in line at the walk-in clinic. Unfortunately, this often leaves me feeling frustrated because seeing your family doctor or visiting a walk-in clinic doesn’t always give you the answers you’re looking for. If something doesn’t feel right, it is worth getting it checked out by a medical professional, but depending on what your problem is, doctors might not always have solutions. If you are suffering from a disorder with no physical manifestations — such as mental health concerns — a clinic or family doctor may send you away without resolving the problem.
While many sufferers of mental illness benefit greatly from medication prescribed by their doctors, it is not always necessary or as helpful as one might imagine. Two cases that come to mind in which non-medicinal alternatives can help are situational anxiety and seasonal affective disorder, both very common ailments. Both can vary in symptoms from person to person. Since doctors diagnose based on evidence presented to them, it’s going to be difficult in cases like these for them to be entirely sure of their analyses. Only you have a complete picture of how you are feeling, and while medication may be necessary in some cases, you might find that you simply need a bit of mediation, exercise, and a healthy diet. These are a few options that could help lift your spirits, if not addressing the root cause of your problem. Non-medical treatments also don’t have the side effects that medication can. One option is counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
I am by no means saying that doctors should be avoided. They should be consulted, however, it’s important to not rely completely on the medical system when you don’t have to.
CBT works by examining negative thinking in order to change your outlook and responses. The purpose of this type of psychotherapy is to minimize overall distress levels and self-defeating behaviour. Considering the amount of stress we students face daily, therapy is one solution to a wide range of mental health problems that is more sustainable than taking unnecessary prescription drugs.
I am by no means saying that doctors should be avoided. They should definitely be consulted. However, it’s important to not rely completely on the medical system when you don’t have to. We all know how difficult it can be to get an early appointment let alone a same-day one. Wait times can be long, especially when you need to follow up with a specialist. Therefore, one of the best things you can do for yourself if you are struggling is closely examine your own situation. Write everything down. Document your moods during the day, what you’re eating, when you’re going to bed, and anything about your health that seems out of the ordinary. Start looking for trends so that when you do see your doctor you can deliver as full a picture as possible. Sometimes you might feel like things are hopeless and that you have no control over the way you feel, but in many cases, you do have at least some agency. Sure, these tips and tricks may not completely solve the problem, but they can’t hurt. Ultimately, doctors are here to help, but they aren’t all-knowing deities. They want patients to feel better, but they are only human. If there is a problem that we may be able to help fix, we should explore all other avenues available to us.
On September 5, Maclean’s magazine released an article entitled “The Broken Generation,” giving an in-depth look into what they called a “crisis” affecting students across North America.
In this age of high-stress schooling, coupled with high unemployment after graduation, more and more university students are struggling with mental illness, the report claimed. McMaster is no exception to this trend.
Dr. Debbie Nifakis, Associate Director of Counselling at the Student Wellness Centre, says there is definitely a trend of more mental health issues coming to light.
“I’ve been working in the field for a very long time and definitely the number of people coming in to access services has increased over the years,” she said.
This can be attributed both to the increase in the number of post-secondary students, and increased awareness of mental health conditions, she explained.
“A lot of people are coming with a lot of awareness and less sense of stigma… I think there’s a lot of talk about mental health issues now.”
One person keen to promote the talk about mental health issues is Huzaifa Saeed, Vice President of Education for the MSU.
“Mental health was something that when I came to McMaster, in 2008, wasn’t a big deal on campus. But in the last year or two… things have ramped up a bit.”
As MSU External Affairs Commissioner last year, Saeed worked with other student leaders from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) to write a paper on student health issues, with a focus on mental health.
This project, combined with his experience as a Welcome Week rep, inspired his “pink elephant in the room” campaign, which offered mental health training to all 1100 of this year’s reps. The response, he says, has been very positive.
“I’ve done a lot of campaigns for the MSU, and I don’t think any particular one of them has been this successful.”
The goal of the initiative is to make Mac a “stigma-free campus,” and to increase awareness of the much-needed support the university offers to its students.
And students need that kind of support more and more, as it’s not always something that they find on their own.
“People are losing the small school connection,” he said of McMaster. “If you’re sitting in a 600-person, MDCL 1305 lecture, you’re not really going to have anyone to lean on if you run into problems.”
Reports have shown that students are generally more stressed and more prone to mental health issues than before. According to the campaign’s website, about 5700 of McMaster’s undergraduate and graduate students will have “a mental health concern.”
A National College Health Assessment done at McMaster in 2009 reported that half of students surveyed “felt overwhelming anxiety,” while 56 percent “felt things were hopeless.”
But although mental health issues may present themselves to a significant portion of students, only about ten percent of the student body takes advantage of the Student Wellness Centre’s counseling services, Dr. Nifakis says.
With nine full-time counselors during the academic year, the Wellness Centre is comfortable with its availability of service.
“There is sometimes a wait time,” Dr. Nifakis said, noting that most complaints come when students may have to wait a few weeks for follow-up appointments. But this wouldn’t necessarily be remedied by increasing the number of counselors.
“I think that you could increase your number of counselors to the nth degree and you would still not meet the demand in the way people sometimes come to expect counseling to be.”
The Student Wellness Centre and the MSU have teamed up to continue promoting the “pink elephant in the room” campaign and further increase awareness about available services for students.
“We’re not counselors,” Saeed said of the MSU, “but what we can do is let people know that these [counselors at the Student Wellness Centre] exist.”
Both organizations will benefit from this partnership as they plan to offer recommendations to the university in a Mental Health Strategy Document later this year.