Last week, while #BellLetsTalk flooded social media, allowing institutions to do the bare minimum in relaying their support for mental health initiatives, another story made CBC headlines — in 2016 a University of Alberta student was kicked out of residence after a suicide attempt.
Year after year headlines emerge detailing another student losing their home, being forcibly removed from their school, regardless of academic standing, owing to the fact that they have a mental health problem.
In the last few years Carleton University and the University of Toronto were the subject of similar headlines. Enough is enough. Universities need to stop kicking students out of residence for being open about their mental illnesses, and it’s a shame that this still needs to be said.
While the U of A issued a public apology to the student in light of CBC’s article, claiming “As soon as the Office of the Dean of Students became aware on Nov 1, 2016 that the letter had been issued, the university reviewed and reversed the eviction decision,” the harm done to the student cannot be erased.
An article published by the Toronto Star in 2017 cites “A major survey of 25,164 Ontario university students by the American College Health Association (which) showed that between 2013 and 2016, there was a 50 per cent increase in anxiety, a 47-per-cent increase in depression and an 86 per cent increase in substance abuse. Suicide attempts also rose 47 per cent during that period.”
This was published in the same year that a student at the U of O died by suicide as well as a student at the University of Waterloo.
This is not a problem that will disappear if swept under the rug, or by kicking students out of residence.
The conversation around mental health in post-secondary institutions needs to change. For the U of A, it’s not even about putting their money where their mouth is. Schools can pour all the money they want into services they say will benefit students, but if the administration itself is unwilling to be a part of the conversation, then nothing will really improve.
It’s time mental health stops being a point of shame within universities.
If they’re going to participate in conversations like #BellLetsTalk, university administration should encourage students to do the same.
The University of Ottawa, while not immune to putting their reputation before their students, has taken strides in improving their mental health services. What once was a point of shame for our administration, in not acknowledging suicides that have occurred on campus, is now a point of discussion.
The Student Academic Success Service has implemented new policies this academic year as a way to improve wait times for students trying to access counselling, and efforts to reach students struggling with mental health issues through wellness week in January were widely promoted.
This is a good start, but as long as there are post-secondary students who don’t feel safe enough to discuss mental health challenges without fear of retribution, it isn’t enough.