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Suicide on campus: mourning and healing at the University of Concord

Struggling to face the death of a student who took her own life on campus, students and staff of the faculty of fine arts of the University of Concordia can establish a new standard for how a tragedy of this type is handled.

Ming Mei Ip, 24, an arts education student, died of suicide in a study at the VA building in Concordia on René Lévesque Blvd. and Crescent St. on February 15.

Ip was a performance artist, painter, poet and dancer who openly shared her struggles with despair, body image and self-love in an online blog and in public presentations. A close friend confirmed that Ip had been fighting mental illness for several years.

It is the first time a student dies of suicide on the Concordia campus, university officials say, and the tragedy has accelerated a re-evaluation of how the school responds to mental health crises that were already underway.

Canadian universities have been grappling with the growing demand for better mental health support on campus. In a 2016 survey, one in five post-secondary students reported feeling depressed, anxious or with mental health problems in the past 12 months, and 2.1 percent said they had attempted suicide.

The classic response to campus suicide has been to silence it and disseminate as little information as possible, in the hope that students and faculty can move forward quickly. However, this approach, defended as respectful of the privacy of the deceased and their families, may increase the feeling of shame and secrecy surrounding suicide that, according to mental health professionals, is counterproductive.

In recent years, students have asked for a more compassionate, open and committed response to mental health crises. More than 15,000 people signed a petition at the University of Guelph after four suicides in the 2016-2017 academic year.

In Concordia, as soon as Ip's family gave the administration permission to speak publicly about the suicide, officials worked to get the word out to the students and teachers, allowing many who knew Ip to attend the organized visit by his mother on February 19.

The faculty of fine arts worked the weekend after Ip's death to ensure that when students returned to school, there were a lot of support mechanisms to help them cope with their shock and pain.

Rebecca Duclos, the dean of Fine Arts, said her faculty was already working with the university's Health and Wellness Center on a plan to change the way mental health services are provided to students, the staff and the faculty.

"When the death of Ming Mei occurred, we" went into action and, literally, in the last 10 days, we had to prototype almost the services we were about to implement " , he said.

"If you can imagine the students coming back to class and the teacher is facing that class of 12 to 90 students and they all cry. Is that instructor prepared to take them through a conversation about suicide? Probably not, "said Duclos.

" So, in 24 hours, we set up a kind of situation room where we were mapping every class that Ming Mei had been in this year and last year, all his teachers and TA, finding all the students and finding ways to have therapists and counselors in those classes at the time they met again. "his death and offered a list of activities to help those who grieved.

The counselors were taken to individual or group sessions for several days in a row The therapy dogs were brought in to provide comfort.

In the basement of the Visual Arts building, a "Community Space" was opened. Clay "in the basement of the Visual Arts building, carving conferences and workshops were organized quickly on how to identify and help people with psychological problems.

Other esafío: how to help students and teachers re-enter and feel comfortable in the study where the suicide occurred.

The classes and activities normally performed in that study were relocated for several days. Duclos requested help from the Resource Center for Aboriginal Students of Concordia, and indigenous elder Vicky Boldo and student mentor Faye Mullen held a defamation ceremony and drums to "heal the space."

"It was probably in my personal and professional life, one of the most powerful experiences I have ever lived," Duclos said of the four-hour ceremony attended by members of the Ip family, as well as students, staff and faculty members. .

and invited people to talk about what they would like for this space and what they would like for Ming Mei. "

Students also planned their own events and activities, and fine art students painted a mural with handwritten expressions of sadness and pain, but also love, hope and healing, which hangs in the entrance to the VA building, a café became a meeting place for mutual support.

The tragedy, said Duclos, "It has accelerated the training that the entire university was ready to participate in."

The faculty had been working to create "wellness pods" where students could get mental health support instead of going to a counseling center in a separate building, where you will find trained counselors and activities that support well-being, such as art therapy, pet therapy, tea ceremonies, meditation and therapy.

"Some students did not want to talk about it at all and just wanted to go back to work," said Yehudit Silverman, a professor in the department of creative arts therapies at Concordia. "Some were angry, many students felt guilty, which is very common with suicide." Could I have done something? Could he have said something? "

" They needed to know that if they felt any of those things, that was fine. And also that affliction does not happen all at once. "They can feel good today and next week they realize they can not concentrate and they feel incredible sadness and crying for no reason."

Silverman, who directed the film The Hidden Face of Suicide, on the need to break In taboos, said it is important that institutions do not hide the fact that suicides occur.

"It is important to name suicide," he said. "It does not help those who are suffering right now if we do not mention it, because then they feel there is shame attached, so how can they tell someone that they are suicidal?"

She praised the faculty and students of Concordia's department of fine arts for finding ways to help heal their community.

"The creation of meaning is the only thing that allows healing. And that meaning does not mean we find out why (it happened). Because we will never know why. All we can do is the kind of things that students do … trying to figure out how we can try to prevent this in the future. That gives you a sense of the loss of your life, because you feel that this could make a difference. "

In 2016, the most recent number for which statistics are available, 1,043 people committed suicide in Quebec If you or someone you know is at risk, here are some resources:

Canadian Suicide Prevention Service, 1-833-456-4566 (Text: 45645

Kids Help Phone, 1-800-668-6868.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


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