The quotes in this article were taken from a transcript of the Emergency Community Meeting on Mental Health and were not attributed to any specific person.
Students spoke out at the U of T Mental Health Policy Council’s emergency meeting last Friday following the death of a U of T student at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology on the St. George campus.
Students who participated in the meeting voiced their concerns over the university’s lack of accountability with student mental health issues and the inaccessible nature of current mental health services.
“Mental health is so complicated,” said one student. “People need services so much and yet all of the reports coming out keep saying ‘it’s not that we don’t have enough services but that students can’t find them.’ But if students can’t find the services then there is a problem.”
Another student talked about the long wait-lines at the Health & Wellness Centre downtown and the inefficient way it caters to students dealing with mental health problems.
“In the beginning of January, when I came back here to Toronto from home, I told Health and Wellness that I was having suicidal thoughts. After my referral it took me three months to see a psychiatrist here. Now, I luckily have a nice support system […] but it’s not the same. It’s not a substitute. It’s a problem because I’m one of the lucky ones.”
Students also discussed how U of T administration has failed to cover an open area in the Bahen Centre, especially considering three individuals have died in the same place over the last two years.
“This is the third person to die in the same way within less than one year, on the same balcony, in the same atrium, where students have been asking for a net,” said one of the students in the meeting.
“A physical barrier,” continued another student on the topic. “A physical barrier wouldn’t have been that expensive or arduous to put up. [The administration] has consistently said ‘we’re working on it, there are complexities involved,’ but it can’t be that complex because there is only one place where you can jump and kill yourself in Bahen. Some of this is very simple yet the low hanging fruit isn’t even happening.”
Another student commented on U of T’s new Mental Health Task Force that began its four-part plan last week, concentrating on data gathering and inspecting the mental health service spaces on campuses before implanting new or improved mental health systems.
“We can’t have another round of consultations. We can’t have another task force. The one we have now isn’t doing anything. It’s so heartbreaking to be so involved in this and we can’t make changes for the people who need it right now.”
On Saturday, U of T released a statement acknowledging the student’s death at Bahen.
“We mourn the loss of our student, and we are here to support our community,” said Sandy Welsh, the Vice-Provost, Students and one of the Senior Assessors of the Mental Health Task Force, to U of T News.
“We recognize that many people in our community would like to pay tribute and mourn the loss of one of our students,” Welsh continued. “When the Bahen Centre reopens, members of our community who wish to pay respects will have the opportunity to do so.”
Welsh added that cards will be provided “to share messages of sympathy and concern.”
A student participating in the meeting spoke out on how affirming your mental health situation and its relation to the stress from U of T’s high academic standards is a way to make a change in the mental health crisis.
“I want change to come out and I want us to take charge and say ‘yes, I’m unwell because this university makes me feel unwell because of the standards it pushes on us,’ and stand firm and strong on that because maybe that’s a way that works.”
On Sunday, U of T News released a follow up article on the recent student death and announced the university will finally close up the open balcony in Bahen.
“We are taking immediate steps to improve safety at the Bahen Centre and we will continue to work on permanent changes,” said Welsh.
“The safety and well-being of our students is our top priorities. We’ve listened to concerns about the building and are putting in place measures that will improve safety.”
The open area on the Bahen Centre’s upper floor that has students concerned will have temporary barriers put in place as U of T moves forward with “long-term changes expected to get underway later this fall.”
U of T News reports that “the university has been working with the building’s architects since last spring to design permanent changes that will enhance safety in Bahen.”
The Mental Health Policy Council will hold a second emergency meeting on Monday at the Junior Common room, University College from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to finalize their plans of action in combating mental health issues on campus.
As of press time, the identity of the individual has not been released.