Students created the first student-run mental health policy committee at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) in response to the recent handcuffing of a UTM student seeking mental health support.
Spearheading the first mental health policy committee at UTM, temporally called the Permanent Mental Health Body (PMHB), is Christina Khokhar, president of the English and Drama Student Society (EDSS), and Graeme Littlemore, president of the Political Science and Pre-Law Association (PSLA).
The committee hopes to have a permanent body of representatives from all 16 of the academic societies, the Office of the Dean, and university student service organizations who can re-evaluate current U of T policies and introduce new ones. As PMHB continues to grow they will also branch out to student organizations.
“Essentially, what we’re trying to do is get everybody who has a stake in mental health on campus [together],” said Littlemore.
“There’s a lot of different organizations and a lot of different people on campus who are instituting mental health bodies,” continued Littlemore. “There’s clearly a need for it. We see it in the news every day. And what’s distinct about ours is that we have a focus on the administration itself.”
PMHB is currently reaching out to organizations concerned with the mental health system on campus including campus police, the Equity & Diversity Office, the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre, the Health & Counselling Centre (HCC), and various academic departments, including Political Science, English, and Historical Studies, in order to foster diverse and impactful discussions.
The committee is particularly looking to spark discussions on a revised training for campus police, working in conjunction with Dr. Bains to ban the act of handcuffing students with mental health concerns, and advocate for more mental health resources like the hiring of more mental health counsellors at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC) on campus. ¬
The creation of the PMHB comes after the third student suicide in the Bahen Center for Information Technology at the St. George campus back in September and the handcuffing of a UTM student at the HCC for seeking mental health support in October.
The latter incident involved Natalia Espinosa, a third-year anthropology student, who was experiencing suicidal ideation. She visited the HCC to get help and was consequently handcuffed by campus police and transferred to the Credit Valley Hospital.
Khokhar also expressed how silenced UTM students feel and how communication within the university’s internal organizations with students is needed to understand students’ mental health concerns.
“Through the act of petitioning, we’ve already come across so many stories. And it’s crazy because people are genuinely just silent but as soon as the opportunity comes up to talk about it, they’re more than willing to offer their story,” said Khokhar.
She stressed that the first step of any reparative action is to ask the UTM community directly what can be done to better their mental health and university experience.
“It shows just how isolating the campus can be at times when students feel that nobody wants to know what’s happening [with them] and so they don’t share,” continued Khokhar. “But the first thing to do is to start asking, ‘what can we do?’ ‘What are you going through?’ And that’s the first step.”
“The overreaching goal of this is responsibility,” explained Khokhar. PMHD believe that just as the community is responsible for each of its members, the university is responsible for its students.
“We want the students to be accountable to each other, and we want the administration to understand its role and importance in all of our lives,” said Khokhar.