Ottawa

'It is a crisis': U of O president sounds mental health alarm after another student death

The president of the University of Ottawa is pleading with students living with mental health issues to reach out for help in the wake of the death of one student and the apparent disappearance of another.

5th student death since January 2019; another student missing since Thursday

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont holds up a report with recommendations for addressing mental health challenges facing students. Frémont was speaking at a news conference on Feb. 11, 2020. (Francis Ferland)

The president of the University of Ottawa is pleading with students living with mental health issues to reach out for help in the wake of the death of one student and the apparent disappearance of another.

At a news conference Tuesday, Jacques Frémont said the university would not be releasing the name or commenting on the cause of death of the deceased student. 

"I offer my deepest condolences to the family of our deceased student," said Frémont. "Having worked with students my entire career, and as a parent myself, this news is heart-breaking."

Frémont did name the missing student, Jonathan Blanchette, who he said has been missing since Thursday. Frémont asked anyone with information about Blanchette's whereabouts to contact Gatineau police.

The student's death marks the fifth at the university since the beginning of last year.

Rising youth suicide rates

Universities across the country have been dealing with the reality of rising youth suicide rates, which has led to calls for better mental health resources on campus.

Students at the the University of Ottawa demanded more resources from the school last December after a student died by suicide.

Earlier that year, students voted to increase their fees to cover the cost of additional counselling services.

Frémont said the university has been increasing resources available to students to address mental health challenges, but that there is much more work to be done. 

"It is a crisis, it is a challenge, an enormous challenge," Frémont said. "If there was a simple solution, I swear to God, we would implement it tomorrow morning."

He said the university is in the process of implementing the recommendations of the campus action group, which presented a report on mental health and wellness to the university's board of governors last month.

Additionally, Frémont said, the university has hired six additional counsellors to reduce wait times for counselling services.

"If you show up today at this very moment, it has been the experience for many months now since we've added a substantial number of staff, no one has been turned away," Frémont said. "It's same-day appointment."

Frémont said he knows the university can feel "big and impersonal," that in reality it is filled with "kind and caring people" who are ready to support those in need.


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