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Photo: Matt Gergyek/The Fulcrum

Plan will be outlined by advocacy commissioner in report, BOD to review report for approval in mid-March

Content warning: Suicide 

The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) says it is developing a strategic plan for addressing the “mental health crisis” the school is facing in the wake of the fifth student death in the past 10 months. 

The plan will be outlined in an upcoming report developed by advocacy commissioner Sam Schroeder, according to an email from the union sent to students, which will be presented to the UOSU’s Board of Directors (BOD) at their March 15 meeting.

The development of the report will start with three forms of student consultation over the next few weeks, including an online form, available until Feb. 28, and the upcoming UOSU town hall on Feb. 27 in the University Centre Agora, with a large portion of the forum “dedicated to listening to students on what they would like to see done by the UOSU on mental health.” 

“We will encourage students to share where they see the gaps on campus, and what solutions they would like to see to address those gaps,” the email reads. 

Students can also schedule 15-minute one-on-one consultations with Schroeder on Feb. 24 and Feb. 28 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in his office in the University Centre. 

“This will allow students to go into even more detail about what problems they see with mental health on campus, and even more importantly, it will allow them to elaborate further on the solutions that are available to the UOSU, the university, and the province of Ontario,” the email reads. 

The first draft of the report will be made available to students for feedback and comments on March 1. The review period closes on March 6, when Schroeder will draft the second version of the report to be sent to the UOSU’s BOD for March 8.

The final report will then be reviewed for approval by the BOD at their March 15 meeting.

What’s happened so far?

At a press conference on Tuesday, U of O president Jacques Frémont acknowledged that the school is facing a mental health ‘crisis’ and said the administration is working to improve the services available to students. He urged students in need to seek help and said no student will be turned away from the walk-in clinic on campus. 

Frémont 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, led by dean of the faculty of arts Kevin Kee, which will hold a town hall on mental health on Feb. 27 in room 112 of Tabaret Hall from 4–6 p.m.

Frémont added that the administration has also hired six new counsellors after students voted to increase mental health funding through the UOSU last academic year.

Students held a sit-in outside Frémont’s office in Tabaret Hall on Wednesday to push for improvements to the school’s mental health system. 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.

Later that day, Frémont attended a town hall for the faculty of arts, where he was met with a number of students who demanded immediate action on improving the school’s mental health system and concrete next steps. 

Meanwhile, student representatives on the Board of Governors of the U of O and Carleton University are seeking a $1-million investment to improve both their schools’ mental health systems.

On Friday, 18 student governments, eight UOSU BOD members, and four co-founders of the uOCollective 4 Mental Health — a student movement launched after the fourth student death of 2019 in December — penned an open letter to Frémont calling for collaboration on addressing the school’s ‘mental health crisis.’

Another protest is planned for Feb. 28 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tabaret Lawn.

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.