Ryerson nursing expert says staff, faculty and students should be aware of the places on campus to get professional help
Students looking for mental health assistance may be deterred from seeking it because of a handcuffing incident that took place at the University of Toronto Oct. 2, says a Ryerson nursing expert.
According to an article in The Medium, later reported by CBC News, a female U of T student seeking help for suicidal ideation at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC) was handcuffed after a nurse from HCC called campus police. The student’s identity was kept anonymous.
“This situation may arguably make others afraid to seek help,” director of Ryerson’s nursing program, Nancy Walton, said in an email to the Ryersonian.
“It also means that institutions like universities and colleges need to ensure that anyone in the position of ‘first responder,’ or who might be consulted in a case of crisis or mental health and wellness, is educated on safe and respectful ways to approach all they might encounter,” she added.
According to former criminal defence lawyer and regulatory prosecutor John Park, the police have authority under Ontario’s Mental Health Act to take someone into custody if the officer believes the person is a danger to themselves or others.
However, from a health-care perspective, the approach should be different, said U of T psychiatry assistant professor Dr. Michael Mak.
“Usually, restraints — including handcuffs — are only used if someone is an imminent and serious harm to themselves or others,” Mak said. “Even in that situation, the restraints are to be used for a minimal period. Some patients can feel stigmatized during the restraint process. Care should be taken to ensure privacy if someone is restrained.”
After the student was handcuffed, she told the CBC that she felt traumatized and criminalized.
“I felt like this was basically all my fault for coming to get help. I feel like that should be a thing that people should never feel when they ask for help,” she said in an interview.
According to a survey conducted by the Council of Ontario Universities, three-quarters of mental health disorders first appear before the age of 25. Universities have also seen an increase in the number of students coping with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.
The survey also shows that the number of students on college and university campuses with identified mental health disabilities has more than doubled over the past five years.
That means more and more university students are experiencing mental health issues and will need to get help, especially when facing critical situations.
Mak suggested that the potentially fastest course of action for students to get help is to obtain a referral to a mental health professional — either a psychologist or psychiatrist — through student health services. If the situation is an emergency, they should consider calling 911 or going directly to an emergency department.
Walton said it’s important for students encountering mental health challenges to find someone they trust to reach out to, whether it’s a professor or an academic adviser.
“It helps to … have someone who will take the time to listen to you and try to help you secure some help in a way that makes you feel safe and valued,” Walton said.
She added that students, staff and faculty should know what services are out there, how to access them, and how to help others get referred to the right place.
Ryerson has several mental health and well-being support systems:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service, phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
- Good 2 Talk Student Helpline, 1-866-925-5454
- Ontario Mental Health Helpline, 1-866-531-2600
- Gerstein Centre Crisis Line, 416-929-5200
- Ryerson Health & Wellness Centre, 416-979-5195