Sustainable Sparks: Julia Caddy on mobilizing around the mental health revolution
Health and well-being are a crucial aspect of sustainability – aspects that many students will struggle with.
An undergraduate student and Mental Health Commissioner of the McGill University Student Society, Julia Caddy is no stranger to the mental health issues facing young people during their studies and beyond, and is committed to to bring lasting change to campus by transforming the mental health landscape.
While at McGill, she became involved with Students in Mind, the McGill Student Section of Jack.org and SSMU Mental Health. Beyond formal activism, she worked closely with the wellness center, student services and the dean’s office to advocate for improved services.
In an interview with the Sustainability Office, Julia discusses the intersectionality of mental health and the future of sustainability.
You have been extremely involved in the defense of mental health rights since you arrived at McGill. Why is this cause so important to you?
At the root of my passion for mental health is my own experience of mental illness, but the momentum that kept me going comes from knowing that there are things we have the power to change. to actually make a difference in people’s mental health. Knowing that it is in our power to improve the mental health of our community and the ability of our community to support each other continually inspires me to continue to advocate for an environment where everyone can thrive.
In what ways have you seen the changes in mental health policies and discussions on campus since you came to McGill?
There has been a tremendous improvement in terms of services and resources on campus. While no resource is ‘perfect’, the re-conceptualized Student Wellness Hub really helps create more opportunities for students to not only get help, but also find the best support for their particular situation. .
At McGill, as more generally, I have witnessed an increase in the recognition of mental health in our discussions, and it is a very big change. Among those of us taking action, the conversations have become much more nuanced. Instead of just pushing for more capacity in the resources we already have, a larger discussion emerges on how we can create a system that allows people to thrive and receive support from the community before they happen. things do not reach a point of crisis.
At the root of this is a recognition of the role intersectionality plays in mental health and a recognition that mental health cannot be dealt with in a vacuum. It’s so closely tied to experiences of racism, discrimination, disability, economic barriers – all of the social determinants that set us up for success or try to weigh us down. Everyone’s experience with mental health is unique. We cannot expect there to be a one-size-fits-all approach.
Why is mental health such an important aspect of sustainability?
In many ways, I believe that health and wellness is central to sustainability.
Creating a socially sustainable community requires looking after the health of its members, and that in itself requires addressing many social determinants of health that are inextricably linked to systems of inequality and oppression. . Whether it’s a cause or an outcome, so many of the diverse challenges we face relate to mental health and the struggles that go with it. There are so many social determinants of mental health that are inextricably linked to systems of inequality, and both must be taken into account to create a socially sustainable environment.
Another way that mental health is linked is that people who work to improve sustainability must be able to maintain the capacity to do so. If those of us who work to make a difference don’t take care of our own mental health, we risk exhausting ourselves. This is the same as needing to put on your own oxygen mask first; if you are not able to take care of yourself, you lose the ability to make meaningful changes for others and for the world at large.
Wanting to change the current problems involves understanding what is wrong, and this is where issues like eco-anxiety come in. As the effects of the climate crisis become more visible, young people have struggling to imagine a future, and we cannot continue without acknowledging the immense anxiety and complicated emotions that come with it.
Many events you have planned [with groups on campus] have involved working with the Office of Sustainability to receive certification for sustainable events. Why has this been a priority?
It really comes down to the fact that we have to recognize and model that we don’t see mental health as a stand-alone topic. We want to show that you can’t just focus on one sustainability issue. Supporting mental health is supporting a greener future. It supports accessibility. It supports inclusive language.
As student organizers, we have values ââregarding the priority given to sustainable development, and the Events certification is an excellent tool to transform these values ââinto concrete actions so that we can âspeak the wordâ. The certification process is not just a tool to help us reflect the values ââwe already hold; it also provides a guide to making sure we live by those values.
If you had a message to share with the McGill community about mental health at McGill, what would it be?
What I want people to realize is that the most effective thing you can do to support mental health on campus is to lead healthy habits yourself. Make sure to prioritize your sanity – even if it goes against what you’re used to – and resist the glorification of toxic productivity within our community.
We cannot expect other people to prioritize their mental health if we are not even taking care of ourselves, nor to be able to support others if we are not feeling good about ourselves. Respecting what your body needs and not encouraging unhealthy behaviors go a long way in shifting the campus culture towards one that promotes sustainability and mental health.
Looking to learn more about campus mental health? Find information on McGill Wellness Hub resources here, or connect with SSMU Mental Health through this web page.