I am profoundly saddened to have to inform you of the very recent death of a University of Ottawa student.
On behalf of the University, I offer my deepest condolences to the deceased student’s family, friends and loved ones, and to everyone who knew them.
Please know that you are in the thoughts of our community, where every single life is cherished, and every loss is mourned deeply.
Having worked with students my entire career, and as a parent myself, this news is heart-breaking. Today we grieve side-by-side.
Please understand that neither the name nor the cause of death of our student will be released by the University out of respect for privacy. It is not our role to comment on the cause of death. It is our role to make sure that when these tragedies occur, we provide support both to the student’s family and to members of the university community.
I must also report that police in Gatineau are currently searching for another one of our students who has been missing since Thursday. As reported in the media, his name is Jonathan Blanchette.
If you have any information about Jonathan, I encourage you to contact the Gatineau police as soon as possible. We all hope that he is found alive and well very soon.
My concern today is with the family, the friends and all those who will be touched by this news.
Please, if you are feeling the need for emotional support, reach out to our mental health services on campus. They are there for you, and if you visit our walk-in clinic on the second floor of 100 Marie-Curie during business hours, our counselors will see you immediately. They can and will link you to community supports that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about mental health on campus. Like every university across Canada we have made strides to try to meet the demand for the mental health services of our community.
Addressing mental health is a highly complex societal challenge. There is no quick fix. There is no established practice. At uOttawa we work to identify solutions and we work continuously to improve the services that are available on our campus.
This past year we have taken a number of significant steps to improve our services. Recently, the Campus Action Group recently delivered its report containing a wide range of concrete recommendations to improve the health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff, many of which are scheduled to be implemented in the near future.
We hired 6 new mental health counselors to help eliminate wait times for students in need of psychological support, as well as another health and wellness counselor to serve faculty and staff. And we have added online tools to help students and staff cope with anxiety and depression.
We have also taken important steps to combat racial discrimination on campus, which is important in this context because we must acknowledge that racial discrimination is yet another source of anxiety and stress for some of our students.
The mental health needs of our students are more complex than ever before. The University of Ottawa is committed – I am committed – to ensuring that the mental health needs of students are addressed as comprehensively as possible on campus.
Let me say a few words to our students directly:
I know that at times this university can feel large and impersonal. But I want you to know that in reality it is filled with kind and caring people. It really is. We are a community of people who care. If you are struggling, if you feel you can no longer cope, please reach out to our counselors. They care. Talk to them. Please.
And if you know someone who might be struggling, I encourage you to reach out to them. If you want to know the signs, please download our mental health fact sheets. There are copies here today. They have now been translated into 8 languages, and they offer tips for identifying and helping people in distress. This is something that everyone can do immediately to increase knowledge and awareness.
Two weeks ago, I announced the launch of a new Task Force on Mental Health at uOttawa. Its first initiative will be a Town Hall on mental health at the end of February. I encourage all students, staff and faculty to attend to share your concerns and ideas, and to listen.
These problems affect all of us. The only way we will solve them is by working together.
Next week is reading week. It is a stressful time because of upcoming exams but please take time for a break. Rest, relax, meet with friends. Do something that makes you happy. Be good to yourself. And be good to one another.
No one is immune from mental health struggles. We all face them at some point in our lives.
Once more I offer my deepest condolences to the family of our deceased student, and my profound hope for the safe return of our missing student.
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Ottawa