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"We can’t let go of our frustration, nor can we afford to drown in it."
"We can’t let go of our frustration, nor can we afford to drown in it."

"We can’t let go of our frustration, nor can we afford to drown in it."

A call for urgent collaboration.
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Daniel Derkach on the recent events at the University of Toronto.

Students are calling for sweeping changes to how our mental health is addressed at the University of Toronto following the 3rd suicide on campus this year. We’ve participated in public demonstrations to draw attention to this mental health crisis, and UofT has issued several well-intended responses to our protests. Despite their efforts to remain responsive to student outcry, however, many of us maintain a position of outrage that is representative of the severity and urgency surrounding the need for mental health reforms. We can’t let go of this frustration, but nor can we afford to drown in it.

Using outrage to initiate important conversations surrounding mental health can generate media attention and help break the silence. But outrage can also cost us the opportunity to build partnerships more inclusively -- partnerships that UofT has expressed interest in building with us.

“I just want to signal here and now an openness and, indeed, enthusiasm to work with students in good faith and in a very open way to solicit your advice and your ideas on how to do better.” -- Meric Gertler, UofT President

There is no debating the need for increased awareness and advocacy when systems are failing to support our health and wellbeing, but positive change is easier to facilitate through collaborative dialogue than with competing monologues. We have an opportunity to work with administration towards solutions around which the next era of U of T mental health policies will be planned. 

To start, let’s make sure every student on campus knows about the mental health counseling budget (not including prescriptions) of $2,500 included in their tuition fees. That’s a fantastic benefit -- the issue is that very few students know about it. This is what happens when we don’t work together: we end up with services that don’t meet the needs of students, or with quality services that students don’t know how to access. We have to listen to one another. We have to hear administrators when they say they can’t hire enough mental health supports to meet student demand overnight; but they have to hear us when we say that a few more hires would make a lifesaving difference nonetheless. 

As more and more of us add our voices to the conversation, it’s more than fair that we collectively acknowledge that universities can do more to support our wellbeing. But likewise, it’s fair for universities to worry that, on their own, they won’t be able to do enough. To what extent university administrations should be held accountable for mental health has been debated for years without resolution.

If universities cannot provide the support we’re asking for, then surely they owe it to students to work with us to fight for it. Students and universities must come together, understand what the university can and cannot provide, acknowledge what’s missing, and work together to ensure our provincial and federal governments fill the gap. Faculty needs to be more transparent about what their responsibilities are so that we know what we can hold them accountable for and on which issues they’ll commit to being in our corner.

If students and faculty at postsecondary institutions across the country can cooperate with one another, our collective advocacy will make far more noise than the sum of its parts. It’s this kind of noise that is most likely to reach the branches of government that can afford more subsidies, bursaries, and other resources to the universities struggling to meet our demands for improved mental health services. A mental health crisis requires a mental health revolution, and the wheels of revolution will turn most quickly when we push forward together. 

So let’s get to work.