The Story that Must Be Told: Student Suicides & Mental Health

No more unnamed 20-something-year-olds should be taking their own lives. Our universities must take a stronger stand on mental health.

She made everyone feel cared for and heard. Her effervescence would light up any room she walked into. She sang and danced, seemingly carefree – full of so much love and heart.

These were the words a fellow student used to describe Cara Farquharson, the 19-year-old aspiring nurse who took her own life at Western University last November. 

A mere ten days later, Brandon Papp, a 21-year-old Geological Sciences student, did the same.

Other than the university’s student-run paper, the Western Gazette, Farquharson and Papp’s names appeared only in one short sentence in a CBC article as well as a London Free Press article, both of them outlining the increased need for mental health services on university campuses. The two victims’ names quietly appeared in small but heartfelt obituaries in local papers but no other media outlet thoroughly covered their stories in a way that did their lives justice.

Making steps but not strides

The conversation surrounding mental health and it’s various implications has most definitely evolved and become significantly more prevalent in our society today. Corporate giants like Bell Media for example, have taken advantage of these discussions and emblazoned them with their hashtag #BellLetsTalk. And, while there are divisive voices surrounding this campaign, it remains true that the company’s cumulative donation commitment from the past seven years has risen to over $86 million and is expected to rise to at least $100 million in 2020.

January 21st is the annual Bell Let’s Talk day, where for every social media post using #BellLetsTalk, the company donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives. However, I believe that there are still some ways to go, not only for the promotion of mental health within university campuses, but for the heightened awareness of it.

Mental health is a conversation that must continue to be had. (Unsplash/Becca Tapert)

Mental health is a conversation that must continue to be had. (Unsplash/Becca Tapert)

Will it ever end?

From January to March 2017, the University of Waterloo lost two students to suicide – an 18-year-old unnamed female student and 19-year-old Chase Christopher Graham – both of whom were found to have ended their lives in student residence buildings.

And on March 5, 2018, the body of a 22-year-old student was found after having jumped from a 12th floor residence building. This came as the first University of Waterloo suicide of the new year, but it was nothing out of the ordinary – since 2012, there have been 10 deaths by suicide at the school.

A tweet from the University of Waterloo’s official Twitter account, encouraging students to contact on-campus counselling in the wake of another student suicide. 

The University of Guelph also witnessed a difficult 2016/2017 academic school year, having reported four cases of suicide – the highest number of suicides the school has seen in a single school year.

More often than not, these students’ stories are not told – at least not in full, or to the extent that they deserve to be shared and remembered.

A conversation to be further empowered and strengthened

Mental health and wellness – and the discussions we need to have surrounding them – are becoming increasingly crucial and significant in times like these. Many post-secondary students struggle to adjust new environments and cope with the newfound stresses of school life, and more often than not, a toll is taken on their physical and mental wellbeing.

Schools must continue to take the initiative to foster an environment that is open, welcoming, and accessible – but not in a way that will dissipate over time. They need to build a safe environment that allows students to feel like they won’t be stigmatized for sharing their struggles with mental health, because mental health and wellness is something that we all have to practice, regardless of whether or not we are clinically diagnosed with a disorder (because at that point, it is often too late).

Classrooms need to be a place of open discussion, and a safe environment for those struggling. (Unsplash/Mikael Kristenson)

Classrooms need to be a place of open discussion, and a safe environment for those struggling. (Unsplash/Mikael Kristenson)

The stories of these students – from universities all across the province – must be told. We cannot afford to keep losing these wonderful minds and souls, of which their legacies will be remembered by the public as a couple of 20-something-year-olds.

I believe that when these stories are not told, they quickly dissipate – and schools and students alike slowly return and conform to complacency, with troubled students unable to seek out the help they need before it is too late.