Mental illness, depression and addiction are diseases, not character flaws – and institutions like the University of Toronto must continue to work to remove the stigma that prevents individuals from asking for help, two university leaders say in a Globe and Mail op-ed.
Michael Wilson, the University of Toronto's chancellor and the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and Santa Ono, president and vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia, write in the Globe op-ed that they have personal experience with the painful toll mental illness can take.
Wilson’s son, Cameron, took his own life 22 years ago after suffering from depression, but hiding it from friends and family. Ono struggled as a teenager and young man, attempting suicide twice before getting the help he needed.
“This is why we are compelled to speak out against the stigma associated with this disease – a stigma that prevents people from asking for the help they desperately need,” the authors write.
They outline the services available at the universities they represent. At U of T, they laud the work of the Health and Wellness Centre and its range of services, from helping students to build coping skills to learning to recognize early on when they may need help. The Rossy Family Foundation's recent gift to U of T is also helping to provide more localized campus mental-health services.
Wilson and Ono also write about a pilot project at seven other university campuses led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada called The Inquiring Mind to teach students to understand and better manage their mental health.
The success of campus well-being programs relies on student leaders trained to provide peer support, they write. "University students are not fragile flowers. They are a real inspiration. Many of them have known someone who took their own life, and they are empathetic to one another."