Apologize for evicting a suicidal student
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On 10 December 2014, Acadia University student Blake Robert was awoken from sleep in his residence by a knock on the door. It was the manager of Residence Life and the director of the Student Resource Centre, informing him that he was being "asked to leave." His mother was called to retrieve him; the next day he was submitted to the emergency ward of the local hospital, unable to ensure his own safety.
In Blake's words, he was "allowed to die, as long as it was off-campus," with no warning and no opportunity to advocate for himself; he felt "disappeared from residence." This incident had happened two days following a series of conversations between Blake and his student don regarding depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts – conversations that were then later used against him. Blake had hoped that in talking to his don he would be directed to the variety of commendable mental health resources available on campus for help with his depression. Instead, superiors in the administration moved in quickly to minimize any potential public relations damage (in the wake of a student suicide) by expelling the source of the problem. Blake was not allowed to go to the counseling appointment the don had made for him. His status as a student was not formally affected, but for all intents and purposes his studies (at the time of term exams, no less) were abruptly ceased.
Again, in his own words: "I didn’t know what to feel at the time. My thoughts ran in loops. I felt helpless and hopeless. I thought I would receive help, but instead lost my privilege to even live at Acadia. I was expelled from the residence community. I lost the social support of my friends. I no longer had the opportunity to go to counseling [on campus]."
Although Blake did receive the help he needed from his family and the public health system, the experience was none-the-less traumatizing. To be overwhelmed by depression, to experience severe anxiety about academics and your future, to feel isolated and alone: and then to have the professionals you turn to for help summarily dismiss you? What if Blake's family had not been so close by? What if he had be an out-of-province or international student, or worse – what if his family, along with almost half of all Canadians, thought his depression was simply “an excuse for poor behavior and personal failings,” and refused to be supportive?
Admittedly, a suicide in residence would have been disruptive and potentially traumatizing for Blake's fellow students. But the decision by the administration to evict Blake was made without any prior one-on-one professional psychological assessment. This clearly sends the message that the daily functioning of the general community is above the health and safety of the individuals which constitute it.
It is unacceptable that university staff, professionals supposedly trained in mental health awareness, would act in such an insensitive way towards a suicidal student. Actions like this promote the horrible stigma associated with mental illness and can significantly increase the danger associated with suicidal ideation.
Acadia University and the staff involved need to issue a formal apology to Blake Robert, acknowledging that their appalling behavior was completely inappropriate for a contemporary institution anywhere in the developed world – one that seeks, no less, to "inspire a diversity of students to become critical thinkers, lifelong learners, engaged citizens, and responsible global leaders."
Athanaeum editorial: http://theath.ca/2015/02/go-die-somewhere-else/
Official response from the Executive Director of Student Services at Acadia: http://theath.ca/2015/02/acadia-student-services-response-to-go-die-somewhere-else/
Information on stigma from University of Guelph's Mental Health Awareness Program: https://www.uoguelph.ca/counselling/awareness/stigma-0
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