U of T students demanding more mental health support following campus suicides

Mar 19 2019, 1:54 pm

Editor’s note: This article mentions and discusses suicide.

Student life is difficult. And while the University of Toronto continues to be highly ranked globally, locally, students are telling a different story.

On Monday, March 18, students at Toronto’s largest university gathered at King’s College Circle to silently protest the school’s “inaction” following three deaths by suicide on campus.

“The University of Toronto’s gross negligence towards its students has led to a toxic campus environment,” reads the event post. “This past year alone, three U of T students have taken their lives on campus.”

Students say the administration “refuses to acknowledge this ongoing crisis, and treats these students like an afterthought — in addition to the tradition long practiced by the administration, of ignoring advice to modernize and strengthen U of T’s mental health services.”

CUPE 3902’s Executive Committee offered support to its members following “another death on campus in the Bahen Centre on the St. George campus.”

The union, representing sessional lecturers and teaching assistants at the U of T, also acknowledged that “it was less than a year ago that we faced a similar tragedy.”

Since the loss of the student’s life on Sunday, the University of Toronto initially released a brief statement on Twitter.

“Members of our community may have been affected by the recent incident at the Bahen Centre. At this time, we wish to respect the privacy of the individual involved and acknowledge the profound effect on family, friends and colleagues,” it said, on a thread of five messages that included support services and helplines for students.

The school said it didn’t release information on the student as per the family’s request.

“On Sunday night, a student fell to his death at the Bahen Centre. The family has asked us to keep information about their child private. We are honouring their wishes, and providing whatever assistance we can to them at this heartbreaking time,” Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost, Students at U of T, said in a statement to Daily Hive.

Welsh said mental health is an issue that cuts across society as a whole.

“We realize the growing need for mental health services on our campuses and in the wider community. We continue to put in place measures to help students who we know are facing a range of mental health issues,” said Welsh.

The school said it is offering counselling to various student groups, and crisis workers are also available.

“We also continue to work closely with our community partners to offer additional supports and resources for our students,” Welsh added.

But some worry the university isn’t doing enough to address the issue.

The protest event said what the university is doing is “the kind of negligence that results in entirely preventable further suffering and death. The U of T administration, whether you look on them as leaders of a community or simply a business with fee-paying students, has a responsibility to prevent this, and they are culpable in these students’ deaths.”

According to The Varsity, around a hundred students gathered for the silent protest on Monday.

Joshua Grondin, VP University Affairs of U of T’s Students’ Union, said the students need 24-hour counselling on campus now.

“I’m crying right now because I begged administration to install safety nets in the space. We already lost someone this year, I begged for them to not let it happen again. There was no response, and now it happened again,” Grondin said.

Grondin also said that throughout his undergrad, his prof rejected a medical note because he didn’t look sick, and that he was told he reached his max number of visits at health and wellness.

The National College Health Association reports that 59.6% of Canadian students felt things “were hopeless” and 89.5% reportedly felt overwhelmed by “all they had to do in the last year.”

If you or anyone you know is in distress, you can speak to:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030