U of T students demand more mental health services after recent suicides on campus


This was just days after the most recent
suicide in the same building where that life ended. The outreach is wrong. So is the grief. There’s anger for sure. It’s really tough to reconcile that all this suffering is so needless and so pointless. And it’s so easy to fix but for some reason it just doesn’t happen. Tragedy is fueling this movement. Four student suicides in the last year and a half alone. Cries for help and now calls for action. The University of Toronto is not alone in this. On campuses across the country students are reporting skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression. But the spotlight is here because at U of T students are giving a silent epidemic a voice. The university has led to a crisis of mental health and I don’t say this lightly or as hyperbole. It’s literally — We all think we’re going through this alone until one of us starts to speak up and then half of us have gone through it. Shahin Imtiaz has battled depression since her early years as a computer science major. She says it’s her duty to speak up for those who can’t. Including the ones who died here in her departments building. After the third suicide here the university installed barriers in exposed areas. A move it says it regrets not doing sooner. In the lobby, silent reprimands and urgent demands. I owe it to someone who’s still around
and who has kind of seen the real human cost of you know this negligence to do something about it Victoria Liao barely made it out of
school alive. [Liao] Every waking moment of every day I was just thinking, kill yourself kill yourself kill yourself. Four years ago, the recent grad reached
out for help on campus. It took six weeks to get into group therapy. Shortly after Victoria tried to kill herself after a night of drinking. Because it had been an impulse thing I scared myself. And that’s why I went in for help instead of just trying again or doing it while sober or something. Victoria was put on a priority list for one-on-one counseling. Too overwhelmed to do anything else she waited. I had no clue exactly how long that list was or you know I had been told you’ll hear within two weeks for a call which then scheduled an appointment. Another two, three however many weeks later. She ended up waiting four weeks to see a therapist on her own. And there are many stories like hers on campus. It concerns me, it worries me. It keeps me up at night. It affects me quite personally. Sandy Walsh is the university’s vice provost and oversees the health and wellness centers that run most counseling services. Mental health and the ability of our students to thrive on our campus. That’s a priority. After the recent spike in suicides. The university spent an extra three million dollars to boost counseling services overall. And is trying to see urgent cases more quickly. Someone is talking to them in that initial moment who’s able to counsel them. Who’s able to provide them with support. And able also it’s important to get the — to understand what it is that the student is experiencing. So we can help determine what the kind of care that we need to be providing in the counseling. We need to be providing going forward. The intake for critical cases may be faster now but after that assessment what’s not clear how long is the wait list. We didn’t get a straight answer. So understandably there’s going to be a range of cases in a range of wait lists. How long is the wait to get counseling services, for example? I mean, when a student needs care what we’re doing is we’re looking at what is the urgency and what do we — what do they need and in terms of how can we support them? We also have expanded the counselors in our academic divisions so students can have access to those counselors as well. So again what’s the range of waiting? The range of waiting really varies by individual students and individual cases. We would prefer that there’s absolutely no waitlist. And we’re doing our best to see students as quickly as possible. The university won’t say how many students are waiting for care. And for how long. But there are anecdotes. The student group behind the actions. The mental health policy counsel says it’s
consulted with hundreds of students who report waiting weeks and even months for help. And so the pressure mounts. The group was caught on video disrupting a recent university fair to warn off prospective students. It’s held a sit-in at the University president’s office. “Please, make it easier for someone to get material help here.” Stormed several Governing Council meetings. And the cost is too high. The cost is far too high. And continues to hold regular rallies. Shaheen says wait lists aren’t the only barriers. Just today literally right before coming to this rally I went to health and wellness for a same-day appointment. I waited two hours to see somebody after I was given a specific time to come in. Then when I had to leave because I need
to go to work they said we’re gonna charge you if you leave now because you left without seeing a doctor. That’s technically a missed appointment. That is not acceptable. We are not charging a kind of feel like that as far as I know. This was a couple of weeks ago. Then I need to be looking into that And those are the kinds of things that were looking at. The university has set up a mental health task force to look for solutions. One of the big issues — the number of counselors. You have 90 counselors and — a student body of close to 90 thousand, right? Do you think that’s enough? You know we can always do more. Why not just boost the number of counselors right away? We’re working hard to do that. We have added additional counselors. And that’s also what why we need to work
with the the province. And we also need help. We need help to have the resources in order to meet the needs of our students. So before coming to university I was diagnosed with a bunch of mental health issues. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety a learning disability, and ADHD. Youssef Matwally is a first year student from Virginia. He got on a waitlist but bailed when
friends warned him if he asks for help he could be asked to leave. I was so afraid that I was gonna get kicked out of school because since I am an international student, my visa says if I’m not studying I can’t be in this country. So if I do get kicked out of school I’m gonna have immigration knocking on my door saying I cannot be here. And that made my mental health a lot worse. Youssef is afraid of a controversial policy that can force him to leave school if he’s deemed a threat to himself or others. The university has placed 8 students on leave in the last year. Acts of compassion it insists. That gives students a chance to get well without academic penalty. But its potential to isolate fragile students even more is under scrutiny by Ontario’s Human Rights Commission. There are students saying that they’re afraid to reach out and these are vulnerable students. I acknowledge that there is a perception problem about the policy. Are you planning to do something about that? We are working on that. It’s a process. It’s not just a mandated leave and it’s important that we do the work so students understand that . But Youssef doesn’t trust the outcome. He can’t afford help off-campus so he’s relying on his new friends for support. As for Victoria, she eventually did get
counseling on campus. And says it set her on the road to recovery . Music has also been a form of therapy too. Her tattoo — a music note and next to it a semicolon that signals she’s a survivor. I got very lucky. Not everyone gets that lucky. But it shouldn’t be about luck. It’s clear this isn’t an isolated incident or an isolated couple of situations. This is a crisis that’s ongoing because of a system that’s failing us. So the students keep showing up. Keep raising their voice. Even when they say they wonder if they’re being heard. Really, we’re still getting the same responses. So if at some point it starts feeling like is anyone really listening? But despite that feeling and probably because of it they say they’ll keep going. So you wanna in watching this what I’mcurious about is what makes University students especially
vulnerable right now well they’re vulnerable to begin with because they’re
facing a lot of academic pressure they’re away from home for the first
time at an age when mental health issues either arise or deepen what makes it
particularly tough in this era is also a job picture out there that is very
insecure so there is that huge element of not knowing what to expect when you
get out of the other end and from the people we’ve talked to that’s a huge
factor to explain these really high rates of anxiety and depression in that
population and how have you tried to figure out how the other universities
are coping with this we reached out to 30 universities across the country
coast-to-coast and asked them a wide range of questions from how do you
collect your statistics to how do you train your staff to ultimately the big
one wait times and that question was a no-go for many of the universities like
U of T they didn’t answer it the ones that did tended to have very short short
wait times or none at all and others pointed out to the different ways
they’re delivering care like McGill for example talked about creating a recently
a wellness hub that allows students to go to one place to get taxes all the
care they need and they say that mitigates wait times and giving them
more stress when they’re actually dealing with so much already all right
you want to thanks very much you’re welcome