Content warning: mentions of suicide.
In response to growing concerns of a mental health crisis at U of T, a group of students has created an online campaign to draw attention to the administration’s resistance of acknowledging systemic issues surrounding mental health on campus. The brainchild of Will Zich, Katie Kwang, Ece Yücer, and Ev Giles, How Many Lives? aims to pressure the university to better handle instances of suicide and be transparent about improvements to mental health services on campus.
The group is currently preparing a report, to be submitted to the university administration, on how mental health culture and resources can be improved.
Since its inception on March 18, the How Many Lives? Facebook page has garnered more than 900 likes. The group has also created a viral profile picture frame to shine light on the movement and allow users to show their support for the cause.
According to the movement’s website, the student organizers intend to post personal student narratives regarding experiences using mental health resources on campus to draw attention to student struggles.
Personal experiences with suicide and mental health motivated Zich to create the page.
“When I heard about this most recent suicide, I felt an uncontrollable urge to do something. All the emotions that had built up in the course of my grief became actualized at that moment. I was speechless. For all I know, I have absolutely no relation to the student that died most recently, but I relived the pain of my girlfriend’s death in hearing about it,” wrote Zich in an email to The Varsity.
Zich was referring to an event that occurred little more than a week ago when a U of T student died by suicide in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. It was the second suicide to occur in Bahen in the last year and immediately resulted in student mobilization against the university’s perceived inaction on mental health.
Students participated in a silent demonstration in front of Simcoe Hall on Monday in response to the death and in outrage at the university’s delayed and muted response to the situation.
“We decided to take it upon ourselves to create a unified movement with a single and consistent objective,” wrote Zich. “We wanted the university to have a name to associate with the movement, and we wanted them to recognize the power of all of its students with the question ‘How Many Lives?’ How many lives does it take before changes are made?”
The Varsity also asked Yücer about the movement’s goals.
“Our objective is to give all students a platform to share their experiences with mental health services at UofT and derive a proposal, considering the submissions to our website howmanylives.org, current actions by the administration, and possible recommendations,” wrote Yücer.
As is also explained on the website, “we acknowledge that no one is happy with the situation of mental health at this school, not us, not the administration.”
Yücer also wrote that, while the administration needs to acknowledge students’ demands, students and university officials must also work together in order to devise a plan that works for all parties involved.
“As we move forward, it is essential to keep our expectations in check with the services provided by the University, but enabling more people to talk about mental health is a big step in the right direction,” wrote Yücer.