To whom it may concern,

My name is Soheila Homayed. I am a fourth year student in international development at the University of Ottawa.

I’m writing to you today on the matter of the tragedy that occurred last week. As I’m sure you are aware, a fellow student took his own life in one of the buildings on campus. I didn’t know the student, but I really wish I had so I could have offered support to him—support at the U of O is greatly lacking. The situation on hand leaves me furious. How many students have to be affected before the school acknowledges that its current method of treating mental health is not working?

Regarding my own experiences, the Student Academic Success Service (SASS) hasn’t offered me any support. Over the course of my time here, I have repeatedly approached SASS for mental health services. I believe it’s incredibly beneficial to seek therapy in times of distress. However, each time I was “assessed” by a SASS counsellor, the result remained the same: the university was unable to provide proper services for the kind of counselling that I was seeking and I was encouraged to look beyond the U of O for help.

This response is extremely frustrating. I pay for SASS services. My tuition money covers my medical costs, including mental health costs. When my mental health is failing because I feel incredibly stressed and overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities of being a post-secondary student, I expect the university to offer proper counselling services. As a student, it’s unreasonable for me to be expected to pay $80-100 an hour on outside psychological support. It is simply unrealistic.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique. Many U of O students are struggling. We face a multitude of stressors everyday with no available, reliable, or capable mental health services. I’m afraid that if nothing changes, we will lose more students to this negligence. This is not a future I will accept.

Last year one of my closest friends tried to take her own life. This occurred after she sought help from the U of O’s services, and told them she was having suicidal thoughts. My friend has had multiple appointments cancelled on her after waiting weeks to get them. She suffered without medication as her family doctor was unavailable and the pharmacy wouldn’t renew her prescription. In addition, when she told medical personnel that she was having thoughts of killing herself, she was simply placed on a wait list to get a referral to a psychologist. Furthermore, some of her professors weren’t understanding the gravity of her situation, which led to more stress during her hospitalization.

The call she had been desperately waiting for, the one announcing that she had secured an appointment to meet with a psychologist at the U of O, came the day after she tried to commit suicide. She was still in the hospital. By these events, it’s evident that the university is lacking the resources to properly treat mental health issues. How many students have to suffer “too late” before the U of O takes action? Enough is enough.

I didn’t get an email about the tragedy last week. I didn’t hear about any grief groups, nor any counselling or grieving services set up for traumatized students. Nothing. Instead, we were informed via the Fulcrum, where there was little information available about what happened and nobody to answer our questions or discuss our feelings with.

Mental health affects us all. I personally know many students struggling with this issue every day, and I am terrified of the consequences that will occur because they weren’t able to receive adequate help.

Therefore, I am asking you, as a student of the U of O who has spent countless hours researching mental health, and as someone who struggles with the issue herself, to make mental health a top priority. Lives are at stake.

—Soheila Homayed, fourth year international development student at the U of O.