There are growing calls from University of Ottawa students to increase mental health resources on campus in the wake of recent student deaths, including one over the weekend.
Jordan Gush, a third-year geology undergraduate student, started a petition in December after a student died by suicide. Since then, 28,000 people have signed the online letter demanding more mental health services.
“The support is coming from not only students of University of Ottawa, it’s coming from family and friends and people all over the place that are respecting and acknowledging that mental health issues here need to be addressed,” Gush said.
“It is a big crisis, and it affects everybody.”
Gush said she wanted to act in part because she was disappointed in the university’s counselling services — especially once she was able to get help privately from a mental health professional.
“I think it’s really important to have a mental health professional build a relationship with their patients,” she said.
“To not have that here is a really big hole in their mental health services.”
Need help? Here are some mental health resources:
- Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553).
- Suicide Prevention Ottawa: 613-238-3311.
Gush said she wants students at the University of Ottawa to have easier access to those services and for faculty and staff to be trained to deal with mental health issues sensitively.
“You can’t go in thinking you’ll be getting help and then coming out having to wait months and months.”
Gush said she was heartened to hear university president Jacques Frémont addressed the situation as a “crisis” at a special news conference Tuesday — but she said those words must lead to action.
University hiring more counsellors
Frémont addressed the weekend death of a student, though he did not identify the individual or confirm the cause of death, and the disappearance of another, Jonathan Blanchette.
“It is a crisis. It is a challenge — an enormous challenge,” Frémont said. “If there was a simple solution, I swear to God, we would implement it tomorrow morning.”
He said the university is in the process of implementing the recommendations of the campus action group, which presented a report on mental health and wellness to the university’s board of governors last month.
The university will also be hiring six additional counsellors to reduce wait times, he said.
‘Widespread’ issue on campuses
The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is running a campaign to improve mental health services at universities.
“It’s definitely widespread. It’s definitely a crisis,” said Sofia Descalzi, the organization’s chairperson.
The CFS said university administrators need to help reduce wait times, provide services in multiple languages and include anti-oppression training in their mental health services.
Descalzi said sometimes student unions and student groups try to fill the gap.
“Student unions are advocating for better procedures, sometimes picking up the slack, introducing their own workshops on mental health, but it’s definitely a responsibility that has to be taken from post-secondary institutions administrations as well,” she said.
Earlier in 2019, U of O students voted to increase their fees to cover the cost of additional counselling services.