Suicides prompt call for more mental health resources at U of W
Published Wednesday, March 22, 2017 5:36PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, March 22, 2017 9:26PM EDT
Students at the University of Waterloo say they want to see better mental health supports at their school, following the second suicide on campus in less than three months.
“I just felt that two in one term is two too many,” Nikki St. Clair, a student who started a petition calling for change, said in an interview.
“I couldn’t just sit there and let this continue to happen.”
In January, a student suicide involving chemicals brought Waterloo Fire’s hazmat unit to one of the buildings in one of the UW Place residence.
On Monday, a 19-year-old male student was found dead outside the same building.
Waterloo student Julie Nguyen says the first suicide affected her to the point where she sought out counselling services from the school.
She says she was told she would be put on a wait list and would likely have to go a few weeks before getting an appointment – which left her feeling disappointed.
It wasn’t until last week, after she had sought out private treatment, that she actually heard back from the school’s counselling office.
“In two months, they didn’t come and see me,” she said.
“I kind of thought they forgot about me.”
Last week – before the latest suicide – Nguyen posted on Facebook about her experience. Almost immediately, she started hearing from other students in similar situations.
“A lot of people were saying that they had the same experiences and they were kind of fed up with how the whole process works here,” she said.
In addition to hoping for more mental health resources at the school and more of an effort being made to make students aware of the resources that do exist, Nguyen says she wants school officials to be more forthcoming with information about mental health-related incidents.
Those sentiments are echoed by Aimée Morrison, an associate professor of English at the school. She says that professors received no official communications warning them about either of the suicides, that students might be upset in their aftermaths, or offering information about on-campus resources they could recommend to their students or make use of themselves.
“I think there’s a culture of silence around suicide on campus,” she said in an interview.
“I think the students get the idea from this erasure or this silence around this death that the suicide is something that the university is ashamed of.”
University president Feridun Hamdullahpur released a statement on the school’s website saying the campus is in mourning and is sending condolences to the student's family and friends.
“While the university has significantly increased its focus on student mental health services over the past few years, we know more can be done to increase the awareness and effectiveness of these services so that those who need help can get it,” he said.
“We thank those who have shared their views with us, including through a petition on the subject of mental health supports on campus.”
Chris Read – the school’s associate provost for students – says mental health issues are “something that we pay a lot of attention to.”
Read says the campus is the midst of a “tough term,” and the school is doing “everything (it) can” to address on-campus mental health issues.
“We just need to continue to be in touch with our students and have them help us understand who needs the support, because we do have the capacity to handle it,” he said in an interview.
The school does have a number of mental health resources available. No additional resources have been deployed as a specific response to the suicides.
St. Clair’s petition doesn’t ask for specific changes, but does ask the school to “build upon the resources and services that are already in place.”
By Wednesday evening, it had nearly 4,500 signatures.
With reporting by Abigail Bimman