In 2016, a University of Alberta student attempted to commit suicide in residence. His attempt failed, but as a result, the school evicted him from residence. This news was brought to the media’s attention, and although a little while later the action was reversed, the damage had already been done. At the same time, similar headlines were appearing in the news with the University of Toronto and Carleton University. Clearly, universities are not taking it upon themselves to provide the necessary mental health assistance to their students, but are instead pushing the students out of their responsibility.
In a 2017 article published by the Toronto Star regarding Ontario universities, it stated that there seemed to be a surge in the mental health crisis. Between 2013 and 2016, there was a 50 per cent increase in anxiety, 47 per cent increase in depression and a 47 per cent increase in suicide attempts. The growth rate of these numbers are rising at an alarming rate, and universities across Canada have seen a surge in demand for more student mental health resources. Yet, if the issue continues to persist even with more resources, there is clearly a deeper underlying issue at play.
Recently, a University of Toronto student committed suicide at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. Shortly following this suicide, University of Toronto students massively protested to bring light to this issue at the school. According to a student testimony regarding the counselling services at the school, it apparently took two months to book an appointment with a therapist, two months to wait to see a therapist and the session lasted only 45 minutes. On top of that, at the University of Toronto, there is a weekly cap on sessions for each student. Even students seeking help with mental health cannot easily access the necessary resources they require. To make matters worse, the University of Toronto refused to even acknowledge the issue as suicide, but instead referred to it as a “tragic incident” on their Twitter account.
Evidently, universities are neglecting the problem. The conversation must change because mental health has to stop being a point of shame for universities. Administration needs to be part of this conversation and they need to enact change. No matter how much funding is put into student services, if administration does nothing, then the system continues to stay in this vicious cycle where students’ lives are at stake.
Notably, the University of Ottawa is continuing to take strides to improve their mental health services. Although it is a start, it is far from reaching the point of combating the issue. Testimonies also show that this issue seems to stem from the disproportionate emphasis on grades. This is a big cause of student anxiety.
Alongside the systematic pressure to students, now is truly the time to look at this situation of higher education, and change it for the sake of all students. This issue hits close to home as just within the University of Waterloo itself — changing the system takes time and resources but it will never happen if the step of acknowledging the issue does not take place first.