Digital post by Yirby

Content warning: death, suicide


In his book, The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur Frank introduces three narrative types used to describe illness. Put briefly, restitution narratives look at illness as something to be cured, chaos narratives imagine illness as something that never gets better, and quest narratives are ones that accept illness and attempt to use it in some way. I believe that these narrative types are present in the University of Toronto’s (UofT) ongoing mental health crisis.

As of September 2019, there have been four on-campus suicides at UofT. That is the amount that is publicly reported – sadly, I’m sure that there are more than that. As students, we talk and joke about the “UofT Culture”, where getting three hours of sleep a night is normal, chips are a meal, and a mental breakdown every couple of weeks is to be expected. I wonder what creates this culture – what is pushing the UofT community deeper into this crisis?

When speaking of the effects of capitalism on those living in her chaos narrative, Margeaux Feldman’s article “Slow Death” uses language like “force”, “drive”, “indication”, and “sign”. As I interpret her words, I get a sense of capitalism as a tour bus company for illness that takes us on a road trip through chaos — which Frank describes to have no discernable sequence. Capitalism steers conversations away from the illness experience of Feldman and her father, and towards a feeling of shame from the inability to perform under societal standards.

Keeping with this analogy, we can imagine Cpt. (read: capitalist) UofT as the bus driver, merging onto the express lane, zooming past the chaos of yet another suicide on campus. As frustration and sadness pour out of students’ mouths, UofT advertises its programs and service delivery on billboards. Our driver puts us back on its course — we drive by road signs: Mental Health Services – 70 km away; Campus Police at the next exit; yield to Mental Health Task Forces.

Capitalism, in this case, also takes the form of UofT’s reputation, which is a primary marketing tool for prospective students. In an email following the second reported suicide at the Bahen Centre, President Gertler wrote about providing 31,000 counselling appointments in the last year, and how the services at the Health & Wellness Centres are available for students to use, if they “feel free to share their struggles”.

. . .

Two things are happening here: President Gertler chooses to showcase statistics to imply the effectiveness of Health & Wellness’ services, and he neglects the narratives of what students are experiencing by putting the onus on them to share their troubles. Statistics are an easy way to objectively market an institution, but I believe they are calculating the wrong ones. There were 31,000 students seen for counselling appointments, but how many were turned away?

Hours after the latest Bahen suicide, students and alumni of the UofT community came together to form the UofT Mental Health Policy Council, whose first public meeting involved interrupting an admissions information session. In their video, they used statistics that institutions so dearly love to communicate the loss of lives, rising rates of depression and anxiety, and the number of months students have to wait for mental health services. Similarly, students who lost a friend to suicide in January created a platform –( – affectionately titled “how many lives” – for fellow students to share their experiences regarding their mental health. These students, like many others, used their pain of losing a community member and channelled it into activism. Using their position as members of the UofT community, they are able to leverage their knowledge of the institution and give their pain and frustration a purpose: to create an environment where UofT students can flourish.

As a frustrated student myself, I am trying my hardest to understand UofT’s response to its mental health crisis, and how they plan to care for their community, too. While I can read statements from Sandy Welsh about how the institution plans to intervene, I find myself agreeing with students interviewed by UofT campus publicationThe Varsity who believe these are interventions that will come much too late and/or are Band-Aid solutions – that a better treatment plan is needed.

. . .

I wonder what “restitution” looks like for UofT. Perhaps it’s addressing the inequities in its policies and practices that hinder students’ mental health. It might be creating a task force to re-discover information found from their provostial advisory committee’s report back in 2014. Recovery could be re-covering the suicide at Bahen by renaming it as an “incident”.


Maybe restitution is simply an institution at rest.


Why, then, is UofT “sleeping on the issue of mental health”? Why would UofT not want to change this culture? What is stopping the administration from reforming the structure of the institution?

I think part of the reason comes back to the capitalist idea of marketability: changing the structure of the institution inherently changes the institution itself. Structure is often upheld to maintain longstanding values that are part and parcel to an organization’s reputation; changing this would essentially change what the institution itself means and stands for. (That also means that the administration would also need to change itself and its views, but that can prove to be very difficult). For an institution that prides itself on rigorous academics and an environment that “weeds out the weak”, changing its values attacks its elite status, which harms its marketability.

The restitution narrative of UofT’s mental health crisis remains a question to me. As a student, I sometimes feel part of the chaos, and sometimes part of the quest in this journey. I’d like to know where to go from here; I’d like to believe that future members of the UofT community will be able to flourish; I want to trust in this institution. For now, we will all experience our own narratives inside of this crisis – I hope that there’s a good ending to them.



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If you're feeling distressed or just need someone to talk to, please don't hesitate to reach out to these resources. HEALTH AND COUNSELLING CENTRE U of T St. George Koffler Building 2nd floor: 416-978-8030 U of T Scarborough Student Centre 2nd floor: 416-287-7065 (Sexual Violence and Prevention Centre: Environmental Building) UofT Mississauga Davis Building basement: 905-828-5255 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS Helplines My SSP for International Students 1-844-451-9700 INDIGENOUS SPECIFIC RESOURCES Helplines Anishnawbe Health Mental Health Crisis Line for Aboriginal Students 416-891-8606 MENTAL HEALTH On-Campus Personal Counsellors 416-978-8030. (Drop in available) OISE Psychology Clinic 416-978-0620 Helplines Good 2 Talk Student Helpline 1-866-925-5454 Ontario Mental Health Helpline 1-866-531-2600 Drug & Alcohol Helpline 1-800-565-8603 Gerstein Centre Mental Health Crisis Line 416-929-5200 HOSPITALS Mount Sinai Hospital 416-586-4800 Toronto General Hospital 416-340-3131 Women’s College Hospital 416-323-6400 LGBTQ2+ On-Campus The Center for Women and Trans People Tel: (416)-978-8201 Fax: (416)-978-1078 Off-Campus The 519 416-392-6874 Helplines LGBTQ Youthline (Peer Support; Open Sun-Fri 4:00PM-9:00PM) 1-800-268-9688 ACADEMIC DISTRESS Academic Success 416-978-7970 SEXUAL ASSAULT/VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN On-Campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre 416-978-2266 Off-Campus Emergency (24/7) Toronto Rape Crisis Centre 416-597-8808 Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Care Centre 416-323-6040 Helplines Assaulted Women’s Helpline 416-863-0511 CAMPUS POLICE Campus Police UTSG 416-978-2222 HOUSING DISTRESS Off-Campus Hostel Services – Central Intake (Emergency Shelter) 416-397-5637 In addition, our ICSS council members are always open and available to listen to and chat with you. You may reach out to the ICSS Equity and Outreach Directors Effie Liang and Lauren Cao at, or ICSS President Nancy Zhao at – we are more than happy to help out in any way we can. Our ICSS general inbox is always open as well, please do not hesitate to reach out. Much love, ICSS.

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Caption: Students from the University of Toronto’s Innis College created a graphic  that was widely shared on my Instagram timeline, Fall 2019.