The arrest of a student seeking support at the Health & Councelling Centre has brought attention to policies regarding involvement of campus police in mental health services. Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

Content warning: discussion of suicide.

As first reported by The Medium, a third-year student at UTM was handcuffed on October 2 after she sought help at UTM’s Health & Counselling Centre (HCC) for “suicidal ideation.” According to the article, calling campus police and arresting the student was necessary due to “protocol.”

The student was fully cooperative and made it clear that she would willingly go with the officers to the Credit Valley Hospital, where they intended to take her. However, campus police proceeded to handcuff her, putting her through an exceptional amount of distress, which she details in an op-ed piece in The Medium.

This incident displays a gross level of disregard by U of T for student safety and well-being, and further contributes to the stigmatization of mental illness and the criminalization of people who live with it.

Students who are in need of help should feel accepted and supported by their educational institutions. They should have access to practical and professional mental health resources that are considerate of diverse student needs, and this support should be prompt and respectful of students’ privacy.

The way that U of T handled this situation was discriminatory, humiliating, and traumatic for the student. Furthermore, the process was unprofessional by medical standards, and unbecoming of any postsecondary institution, let alone those of Canada’s top university. U of T should be leading the country in student mental health and well-being, but instead we are criminalizing mental illness and ostracizing students who experience it.

The involvement of campus police during this incident highlights just how severely U of T has failed to assess what is necessary and appropriate when responding to mental health crises, while also displaying how grossly misinformed and ineffectual their mental health policies and protocols are.

Mental health services must be accessible and professional, and police force should not be unnecessarily involved.

Standards for addressing student mental health concerns should take students’ well-being and dignity into account, work toward de-escalating tensions, and create a safe and accessible means of receiving support.

Seeking help for mental illness is already difficult for many people, and this incident may further deter students from doing so. As reported in an article by CBC News, the student explained, “I felt like this was basically all my fault for coming to get help.”

Students are losing their lives to suicide and being penalized for seeking mental health support, and yet U of T is still not doing enough to sufficiently address this crisis. Students have been calling for mental health reform since September, yet little progress has been made by bureaucracy.

Students seeking support for mental illness should not have to fear for their safety, or experience mental or emotional distress, and they should never have to face arrest by campus police. U of T has an obligation to its students to deliver proper mental health services, and cannot continue to ignore this crisis if it cares at all for its students’ lives and mental well-being.

Hafsa Ahmed is a third-year Political Science student at UTM. She is an Associate for The Varsity’s Comment section.

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 recklessly

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, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

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