Monday, 9 February 2015

Let's Talk--About Better Assistance on University Campuses

Each year I do a post on Bell's Let Talk Day with the goal of helping to publicize the need for talking openly and ending the stigma of mental illness.

However, a recent incident involving a student in resident at a Canadian university might have the unfortunate effect of discouraging young people from coming forward in search of assistance when they urgently need it.

This student's appeal for help to cope with his depression and suicidal thoughts ended in a demand that he leave the university's residence before he even had a chance to meet with a mental health counsellor.

The day before he was to attend a counselling session on campus, he was advised by university officials that he had to immediately vacate his room because he posed a risk to other students. If he did commit suicide, this would adversely affect the mental health of the other students in residence. His mother was called to come pick him up. He could attend classes, they said, but he couldn't stay in residence.

According to a university spokesperson:

There has never been a case [here] where a student has been removed from residence for the sole reason that they have threatened self-harm. We simply would not do that. . . . There have been times, though, where the special needs of an individual have exceeded the university's capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support for their own safety and well-being, as well as supporting and protecting others who are in close proximity or have direct contact with the individual.

This story clearly underlines the necessity to talk openly about our universities' "capacity to provide the adequate and necessary support" to young people in urgent need of help at a very vulnerable time in their lives. While money is hard to come by all around, and budgets are constantly under scrutiny in every organization, universities included, I would suggest that the mental health and well-being of the young people in their charge--many living away from home for the first time--should be considered a very high priority rather than something for which "adequate" is a target not always attained.

Our youth need to feel it's permissible to ask for help when they're struggling with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress. The last thing they need is the unspoken message that they're only going to "cause trouble" for their school and themselves if they do find the courage to come forward.

Our institutions need to change their priorities and do a much, much better job of listening and helping whenever someone within their walls reaches out to them in times of need.

For the CBC story, please click here.

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