In the 2017-8 academic year, the student-led mental health advocacy group Hi F.I.V.E. experienced a severe lack of funding, hindering their initiatives and presence on Burnaby campus through the year.

     Students involved in Hi F.I.V.E. have been working to eliminate mental health stigma at SFU since 2013. “Basically our mandate is, just try to eliminate stigma and create awareness [around mental health],” summarized Hi F.I.V.E. coordinator Natalie Morin in an interview with The Peak.

     “But recently we’ve kind of changed that a little bit, to something a little bit more revolutionary where we actually want to bring change on campus. Because we believe that students know that mental health is not great here on campus, now we want to create the change.”

 

A suddenly tighter budget

However, for the past year the group’s numerous requests for funding — specifically those submitted to the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) — have been turned down.

     According to Morin, the decreased funding for the group was first noticed in spring 2017 when the group submitted a proposal for increased funds for ME Week, an annual week-long event held by Hi F.I.V.E. which promotes mental health through activities meant to help students destress.

     “Usually [ME Week is] a week long, but because of funding issues we had to cut it quite a bit,” recalled Morin. She elaborated that shortly before the spring 2017 event, the group’s request for funding was declined by the SFSS, because they were now considered an external group.

     Prior to this refusal, the group had received funding from SFU’s Health and Counselling Services (HCS) as well as the SFSS. “At the beginning of the year, fall 2016, [the SFSS] said yes to the proposal, yes to fund Hi-Five for its organizational costs to split with Health and Counselling Services. So at that point in time we weren’t considered external. But as soon as we put in the proposal for ME Week spring 2017, it was declined and we were called an external group,” said Morin.

     “[Hi F.I.V.E.’s] status has always been unclear,” commented SFSS President Jas Randhawa, in an email interview with The Peak. “Initially the work began as an initiative of SFU’s Health and Counselling department, as a result of the interest and vision of one of the members of the HCS team.

      “Traditionally, students involved with Hi F.I.V.E. have been directly supported by members of HCS staged by the groups, while the SFSS has been asked to provide ongoing financial contributions to pay stipends for students who have been involved with the Hi F.I.V.E. group, in addition to the costs associated with the events that are developed and delivered by the group.”

      According to Morin, when the group followed up on the rejection for funding and asked if there was a funding process for external groups, they were told one did not exist. She stated that in August 2017, she was told that the SFSS was in the process of drafting a process for external groups, but as of this article’s publication date, one has not been formulated.

     The SFSS did not respond to queries about an external grant process.

     “We don’t consider ourselves an external group at all,” said Morin. “We work internally with Health and Counselling Services.” The Hi F.I.V.E coordinator took it upon herself at the beginning of the 2017-8 academic year to find a spot for Hi F.I.V.E. within the SFU community that would allow them to continue working for students. After an initial meeting with previous SFSS president Hangue Kim and SFSS CEO Martin Wyant, the group had expressed that they did not feel Hi F.I.V.E. should be officially assigned a club status. As a club, “we would lose our relationship with Health and Counselling Services, where we actually originated from,” said Morin.  

     According to Morin, the group then spent the next few months discussing the possibility of Hi F.I.V.E. obtaining department status similar to Out on Campus or Women’s Centre. However, on the first day of reading week in 2018, the group was officially offered a club status — should they not accept, the spring 2018 proposals prepared by Morin would be declined. Hi F.I.V.E. declined the offer.

     Concerning the offer made by the SFSS towards Hi F.I.V.E., Randhawa commented, “we value the work that has been done by Hi F.I.V.E., and we believe that it makes more sense for them to be seen as a club, rather than a department of the SFSS.

     “There are a number of clubs that do very good work in many areas, including mental health, for our student body. Being a club provides Hi F.I.V.E. with the opportunity to access room booking, SFSS grants, and other services that are intended to help student groups succeed.

     “If Hi F.I.V.E. is interested in being a department, we don’t think it makes sense to be a department of the SFSS, as we would be duplicating the oversight, expertise, and resources that are already available through SFU’s Health and Counselling,” he wrote.

      ME Week 2018 was funded via the Student Engagement Fund, which provided $1,500 for the group to put on the event, as well as donations from friends and families. To put on a ME Week that would reach enough students, Morin estimated the group would have required approximately $5,000.

 

Bringing forward the student voice

On the heels of refusals for funding requests and with the risk of Hi F.I.V.E. losing its advocacy ability on campus, the group had one of the strongest showings at the debate held on Burnaby campus for the candidates of the SFSS 2018 election. Several members directed questions at the candidates regarding their promises for mental health reform.

     “We made sure that anyone that included mental health advocacy in their platforms was accountable and not just using it as an electoral buzzword,” Morin said. She recalled that her strategy for voting in the 2017 SFSS Election was supporting candidates who had written mental health advocacy as a priority in their platforms, and then being disappointed with the lack of work done to promote the cause on campus.

     Among other platform promises Hi F.I.V.E. asked about during the debates, the efficiency of online counselling was questioned by the group. “Online therapy has been proven to be [. . .] often not enough for mental health issues and meeting face-to-face is still better when treating people in mental distress,” spoke Tyne Dhillon, member of Hi F.I.V.E.. “In fact, a survey we recently conducted shows that SFU students seek peer counselling over online counselling.”

      Morin cited the debate over online counselling to The Peak as an example of the SFSS allocating funds for projects that may not be the most beneficial for SFU students, doing so without consulting students for their opinion.

     The SFSS recently announced keepme.SAFE, a multi-platform mental health service for SFU students that received a $75,000 contribution from the SFSS. Hi F.I.V.E., as a student group, believes this money would have been spent better if student input had been solicited: “We’ve done actually our own survey and everything and asked whether or not the service would be beneficial to students, and it was actually voted the least helpful,” Morin said.

     For the SFSS, Morin believes it would be beneficial to “include the students in the conversation.

“If you want a larger showing, if you want a better community, an engaged community, on campus, then you need to give the clubs money. You need to ensure that they can do their events and do them successfully and not have to worry about funding.” – Natalie Morin, Hi F.I.V.E. coordinator

 

     “We want to be a part of the conversation because we have been ripped out of our spot. We basically want to make sure that they know that they shouldn’t be making decisions without the voice of students, and especially those who advocate for mental health and who have been in the mental area for quite some time and have the research to back it up,” she said.

 

For the unforeseeable future

As for Hi F.I.V.E.’s future, Morin is currently unsure how the group will move forward. “I hate that it comes down to money, but we can’t do anything without money, so we don’t know,” she commented. She hopes that the group can continue negotiating with the SFSS regarding Hi F.I.V.E.’s role in the SFU community, and help the Society serve SFU students.

     Regardless of Hi F.I.V.E.’s fate, however, Morin is committed to continuing to advocate for mental health in the community: “We won’t fade into the back, for sure. We will definitely be present on campus next year, whether it’s under Hi F.I.V.E. or our own thing.”