Are universities supporting mental health on campus?

by Shanleigh Brosseau

In June, the University of Toronto passed a policy that could place students with mental health issues on mandatory leave.   

The policy made national news and has been criticized by several student and advocacy groups.  

The University has said that the policy is not meant to be punitive and is only meant to be applied in extreme circumstances as a last resort. However, students and advocacy groups are concerned that this policy will cause fewer students to disclose their issues and to ask for accommodations leading to increased academic failure and worsening of mental health. 

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) expressed their concern that the treatment of students contemplated in the policy may result in discrimination against mental health disability. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, this mandatory leave policy prevents vulnerable students from supports they have found on campus. 

Laurentian’s Student General Association (SGA) has voiced their concern and disapproval of the University of Toronto’s new mental health policy through a letter.  

“As a student, and someone who represents lots of students, this mandatory absence policy really takes away a students autonomy and ability to decide what they want to do, what they can do,” SGA president Tommi-Lee Gauthier said.   

“[This policy] blatantly removes their rights. We stand against that for our students.” 

Diverse approach, consultation needed

Regarding any potential policies regarding student’s mental health on campus, Gauthier says there are two things most important to the SGA – a diverse approach and consultation with students.  

“If it’s about us, without us, it’s not for us,” Gauthier said.  

According to Gauthier, the policy is not “pro-student” as policies like these marginalize groups that already struggle to access services.   

Rather than following this policy, Gauthier adds that there are improvements to be made to Laurentian’s current supports and services, especially in regards to more culturally diverse mental health services.  

Gauthier said Laurentian could be doing a lot more.  

“We could be setting examples for other universities on how to be more culturally inclusive and how to remove barriers for students with [reduced access] to this institution and services.” 

“There is so much diversity, and we need to do a better job of accommodating that,” she said.  

 According to Gauthier, all of the student unions on campus are working with Laurentian administration to make sure that the mental health services here and continually being improved.  

“Laurentian University does have a great culture of care, but there’s always room to improve,” Gauthier said.