President Meric Gertler speaking to students during a recent protest about mental health inaction. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Content warning: mentions of suicide.

Following a student death at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology earlier this month and an increasing public outcry over perceived inaction on mental health, U of T President Meric Gertler announced today that the school will be establishing a Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health to “review mental health supports and services for students at U of T.”

According to the letter, the task force will conduct a series of consultations with students and student groups on campus, which Gertler called a “key part” of its mandate. It will also draw on expertise provided by the university’s faculty.

The letter comes two weeks after emergency services were called to campus after a student died by suicide. Gertler acknowledged that the period since has been “an extremely difficult time for our community, as we mourn the tragic death of one of our students.”

This tragedy – especially after similarly tragic events earlier in this academic year – has triggered profound shock, sorrow, anger and frustration,” he noted. “It has also triggered an extraordinarily important discussion about suicide prevention and student health and wellness more broadly. This discussion has been collegial and thoughtful. It has heightened awareness of these issues throughout the U of T community. It has also helped position us to make significant progress in the future.”

The task force will be chaired by Trevor Young, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and senior assessors will include Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh and Vice-Provost Graduate Research and Education Joshua Barker. The unit’s membership will include students, faculty, and staff.

The letter also outlined further plans of action, which includes having the Expert Panel on Undergraduate Student Educational Experience consider “explicitly the broader issue of learning cultures, competitiveness, student wellbeing and student supports in its deliberations and its recommendations.”

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them about it, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

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