Student Mental Health Walkout

Raeesa Ashique - 3B Electrical
Posted on: March 11, 2018

Tragedy struck the University of Waterloo on Monday, March 5, when a young man in his fourth year took his own life on campus. Our condolences are with the family, friends, and acquaintances of this student. May he rest in peace.

The University released a statement, noting that they are in touch with the family to provide support and discuss the timing of further updates to the campus.

This saddening incident has prompted widespread discussion on mental health. On his blog, President Feridun Hamdullahpur said, “Like many of you, I am asking what was going on in this young man’s world where taking his life seemed the only way out.”

Last year, two students committed suicide in the Winter 2017 term. Following the tragic events, a petition urging the University to address mental health concerns garnered thousands of signatures, and a report was commissioned to investigate this situation. The President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health is releasing this report on March 14: it will discuss staffing concerns, how to further support student mental health, and how to improve student life on campus, including examining the current campus culture.

They are also holding a forum to discuss recommendations put forward by the committee and next steps to achieve positive change on campus. Attendance is encouraged.

The President also said, “We need to turn talk into action to make sure we are doing everything in our power to remove stigma and connect people with the help they need.”

This time, it felt different.

The University openly announced the death, rather than covering it up. I am not blaming the University: copycat suicides are a documented phenomenon, so choosing not to broadcast previous suicides may have been the right thing to do. I am simply acknowledging their transparency.

Maybe because it is the first suicide of 2018. Maybe it is the timing, with the mental health report about to be released. Maybe it is the fact that this student was so close graduating. Maybe we have collectively realized it is time to start talking. Enough is enough.

Mental health has become a larger conversation than ever before. People are sharing their stories. Students are protesting for change—we want more discussion and more resources.

There is a deficiency of counsellors here on campus: twenty-two fulltime counselling services staff and two full-time psychiatrists serve over 31,000 undergraduate students and over 5000 graduate students.

I have heard of some students with positive experiences with counselling services. However, most people that I know personally, or have heard about, had very poor experiences. They often waited for weeks or even months to get an appointment. Basically, unless the individual is fully or borderline suicidal, they will have a relatively long wait period. The staff is fully booked, so priority is given to extreme cases, leaving moderate cases feeling unimportant and alone.

The sadness, anger, and frustration permeating the campus led to a Walkout for Mental Health on the morning of Thursday, March 8. Organizers wanted students to actively “walk out” of class to protest the state of and response to mental health concerns at the University. About 200 students attended.

Sarah Welton is a fourth-year student studying English Rhetoric, Media, and Communication with a minor in Management Studies and co-op. She calls herself a “symbolic lead” in organizing the walkout, saying it began in Professor Frankie Condon’s class last week. Condon inquired how her class of forty students felt after the suicide, and everyone shared stories and opinions. The emotion in the room led to organizing this event, of which Condon was very supportive.

At the protest, students shared stories of abuse, sexual assault, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Welton cited the sense of solidarity and empowerment: after seeing the bravery of the first few who spoke, more and more students wanted to stand up. Even one professor and a counselling services staff spoke about their experiences. “There was a lot of emotions running high: anger, sadness, frustration, and loneliness…I heard so many heartbreaking stories.”

Students believe that the time for change is now. Welton said, “With the walkout, we want to push for a change from the student body as well as a change on the part of the administration. A concrete change, not just some tokenism that will be forgotten in a few months.”

Resources

Please remember: you are important. There are people who care about you. There is always a reason to live. There is always another way. We are all in this together.

If you need help, or just want someone to talk to, these resources are available, on or off campus:

MATES: contact by email (mates@uwaterloo.ca) or drop by. Drop-in hours are as follows:

  • Needles Hall North, 2nd floor: Monday – Friday, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
  • Engineering 2: Monday – Friday, 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM

Counselling Services: 519-888-4567 ext. 32655

Health Services, Student Medical Clinic: 519-888-4096

Grand River Hospital: 519-749-4300

St. Mary’s Hospital: 519-744-3311

Or call the following hotlines:

Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454

Here 24/7: 1-844-437-3247

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