U of Guelph president, faculty check on students’ mental health

The president of the University of Guelph (U of G) and faculty members have been going door-to-door to talk to students in residence, known as the House Calls program, according to the university press release.

After four students at the university died by suicide last year, the program began in winter 2017, where the U of G staff, administrators, and volunteers reached out to about 4,700 students living in campus dorms, according to the release.

Brenda Whiteside, the associate vice-president of student affairs at the U of G, told CTV that she has never seen this number of suicides in her 18 years on the job.

“One suicide would be a problem for us, this is highly unusual,” Whiteside told CTV.

Jack Farrell, a second-year neuroscience student at the U of G, said that last year he was the president of the Interhall residence council on campus. Whenever a student died by suicide, Farrell would receive an email from residence which he said was very heartbreaking to him and other students.

Obviously, no one would want to wake up to news about the death of another student. I used to play the guitar during the time when the suicides were occurring. I wanted to do something to raise awareness, so I decided to write a song called ‘What I’m Feeling’,’” Farrell said.

He said that student mental health is a problem that needs attention.

“No one ever thinks it might happen to their friends because it takes less than a second for a life to be ended,” Farrell said.

Patrick Kelly, who oversees the House Calls program, told CBC that the program received positive feedback and said students expressed their gratitude towards professors who volunteered their time.

Farrell said he thinks student suicides are result of a combination of school workload, anxiety, and mental health issues.

Kelly told CBC that the first six weeks of the school year is the toughest time of the year, particularly for students in first year or those leaving home and living on their own for the first time.

“A couple of suicides happened early in the year . . . And there was an upper-year student who [died by] suicide as well, so it’s not always about the new environment,” Farrell said.

After news broke about the deaths, the university began emailing students to notify them of the available mental health resources, he said.

The university also introduced the ‘Friendship Bench’ in April 2017, for members to “unwind and discuss their own mental health and that of other,” according to a press release at the time.

According to the release, the bench also features links to campus and provincial resources and services for mental health and suicide prevention.

“All campus residence assistants are now trained on [a] professional program on how to talk about mental health. The professors have also dedicated the first few minutes of lectures talking about mental health, and to whom students should go to if they ever need help,” Farrell said.

If you or someone you know needs mental health support you may contact the following sources:

Carleton’s  Health and Counselling Services: 613-520-6674

Mental Health Crisis Line: 613-722-6914 

Photo by Aaron Hemens