Content warning: This article contains mentions of suicide. 

Student groups across campus have released statements following the death by suicide of New College student and Chestnut resident Keshav Mayya, giving their condolences and demanding greater action from the university on mental health issues. The groups highlighted COVID-19 as a factor affecting student mental health, but stressed that the pandemic exacerbated a pre-existing problem of poor mental health support on campus. 

Micah Stickel, acting Vice-Provost Students, wrote to The Varsity that U of T is offering support to the community, as well as in-person support for those directly affected. 

This most recent incident follows four other student deaths that have been reported since 2018. Three of them occurred at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, prompting students to protest and advocate the university to improve its mental health support.

Student groups on campus respond

The New College Student Council (NCSC) released a statement on November 6, expressing sadness at the death and “frustration and dismay regarding the normalization of poor mental health at the University of Toronto.” The NCSC described a perceived lack of substantial change by the university in response to student criticisms.

The U of T Physics Student Union released a statement on November 4, writing, “The student was not only a member of the University of Toronto community, but also of the physics community.” The group urged students to take care of their mental health despite the stress of exams. 

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) released a statement on November 3, writing, “Our community is hurting.” The UTSU asserted that the student death has “highlighted a cultural and institutional problem at University of Toronto that has continued to go unaddressed.” 

The UTSU urged U of T to make student mental health a priority and create a “compassionate, empathy-driven academic culture.” The union also committed to investing in student mental health, which it characterized as a “crisis.”

The other major student unions — the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union — released statements as well, expressing condolences for the student who died and calling for the university to do better on mental health. 

Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) executive members released a similar statement on November 3, criticizing the university’s “appalling” mental health policies, as well as the resources available for student mental health care. It also highlighted online learning and the lack of in-person activities as factors that may negatively impact students. 

“Students’ mental health and their ability to thrive should always be a priority of the University. Unfortunately, this has never been the case,” wrote the ASSU executives in their statement. 

Calls for better mental health support

The UTSU, U of T Mental Health Policy Council, ASSU, and eight other student unions held an emergency meeting for students and student leaders to share their thoughts on mental health and accessibility at U of T. Many students spoke about the difficulties they have faced with receiving mental health and accessibility support from the university, and expressed anger and frustration at the continuing mental health crisis on campus. 

First-year student Nejat Ahmed circulated a petition calling for reform in U of T’s mental health services following the student death. The petition had garnered over 3,800 signatures by November 12 and urges U of T to invest more in mental health services on campus.

In an email to The Varsity, Ahmed wrote that she wanted to spread awareness about the issue, identifying a few main goals. 

She urged U of T to use its “multi-billion (not million, billion) dollar budget” to hire additional counsellors and to reduce wait times for appointments. Ahmed also suggested that U of T hire a team of on-call counsellors to work with campus police, pointing to an incident last year when a student seeking mental health care was handcuffed by campus police at UTM.

Ahmed also urged the administration to allow students extensions on coursework even without documentation. 

“For years the school has facilitated an environment where you can’t breakdown under pressure; ‘you’re either the best or nothing at all,’ one could even say. Mix it with a flawed mental health system and you’re left with an institution designed for burnout, anxiety and failure,” wrote Ahmed.

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.