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Saada Hussen is an undergraduate student representative on the U of O’s BOG. Photo: Saada Hussen/Provided

Undergraduate governors call current resources available to students ‘inadequate’

Content warning: Suicide

Student representatives on the Board of Governors (BOG) of both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University are seeking a $1 million investment to improve their schools’ mental health systems in the wake of the fifth student death in the past 10 months at the U of O. 

In a statement posted on Tuesday, U of O undergraduate governor Saada Hussen and Carleton undergraduate governor-elect Nathaniel Black called current resources available to students “inadequate.”

“The reality of the situation is that more services must be made available for students at Carleton and the U of O,” reads the statement. “Governance must ensure that students have more options to address their unique loved experience with mental health and wellbeing.”

Hussen and Black are planning to propose a harmonized investment of $500,000 aimed at cutting down wait times for counselling by hiring more full-time staff. At Carleton, they’re seeking an additional $500,000, which would come from the school’s deferred maintenance fund, to build more clinic space on campus as well.

At the U of O, Hussen and Black highlight the limit of eight counselling appointments per academic year as another issue to address. 

“(Some) students did feel as if they were abandoned, and I don’t think their feelings should be disregarded whatsoever,” Hussen, a first-year medical student at the U of O, told the Fulcrum in an interview. 

At Carleton, the duo is pushing for the expedited implementation of recommendations laid out in a student mental health framework. 

Hussen said the hope is for the majority of the initial $500,000 investment to come from the provincial government, but added that they would accept other sources of funding to reach the goal if need be.

Along with hiring more counsellors and addressing the appointment limit, Hussen said she hopes the funding directed toward the U of O would be used to train student mentors and revamp the school’s mental health and wellness portal, highlighting navigational issues, confusing layouts, and difficulties locating specific resources.

“What it represents is amazing … but there’s so much work that could be done on it,” said Hussen. “I think the interface could be fixed, maybe have a (phone) application equivalent to it.” 

U of O president Jacques Frémont acknowledged that the school is facing a mental health “crisis” on Tuesday and said the administration is working to improve services offered to students. 

He highlighted the recently released report on mental health and wellness at the university, which contained a number of recommendations for improvement that are set to be implemented in the near future.

The school also announced the launch of a new task force on mental health in January, which will hold a town hall on mental health later this month. Frémont added that the administration has also hired six new counsellors after students voted to increase mental health funding through the University of Ottawa Students’ Union last academic year.

Students held a sit-in outside Frémont’s office in Tabaret Hall on Wednesday. The president of the university eventually met with protesters and asked them to join him if he were to go to Queen’s Park to ask for funding, to which they agreed.

Another protest is planned for Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tabaret Lawn, with talks of more protests taking place after reading week, which starts this Monday. 

“It hits close to home … it’s devastating,” Hussen said of the testimonies she sees online of student’s experiences with the U of O’s mental health system, urging them to reach out to her with their concerns to bring to the BOG and president Frémont. “I really (want) to be that voice for all the students to the administration.”

Saada Hussen, student representative on the U of O’s BOG, can be reached at shuss059@uottawa.ca

More to come.

A non-comprehensive list of local mental health resources appears below…

On campus…

  • University of Ottawa Health Services (UOHS), 100 Marie-Curie Private
    • Offers counselling, psychiatric services, individual, couple or family therapy, access to psycho-educational groups and referrals to specialists off-campus
  • Student Academic Success Service (SASS), 100 Marie-Curie Private
    • Offers individual counselling, peer-counselling, workshops, online therapy and group counselling using new stepped model; referrals
  • Faculty mentoring centres (locations differ by faculty)
    • Specialized mentoring services catered to the needs of students in each faculty

Off campus…

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.