N.S. university student felt pressured to sign ‘gag order’ about mental health struggles

It’s called a “wellness agreement” and one student at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax wants it changed.

Last September, Brody Stuart-Verner says he started having suicidal thoughts. He ended up in the university’s Residential Life Office, where he had to sign the agreement.

“The residence life manager promptly put the pen and the piece of paper in front of me and I was given very little clarification,” Stuart-Verner tells As It Happens host Carol Off. “There were just a few things that just popped out at me that didn’t sound completely right but again, at that time, I was in such a fragile state that I thought that I had to sign it.”
One section of the confidential document stipulates that the student “will not discuss or engage in conversations with residence students regarding personal issues, namely the student’s self-destructive thoughts.”

“I had never experienced a bout of depression like this and I desperately wanted to get better,” Stuart-Verner explains. “I knew it was wrong, what I was signing, [but] I still trusted these people.”

The agreement also states that if a student doesn’t comply with the listed terms and conditions, “you have to leave your room in residence and your lease will be terminated.” Already in a fragile state, Stuart-Verner says he was constantly worrying whether he was violating the conditions of the agreement and the threat of losing his residence room kept him from going public until now.

“It’s a vague agreement,” Stuart-Verner argues. “I just didn’t know if I would be able to deal with the repercussions which would be me being forced out of residence.”

copy of MSVU wellness agreement
Photo of the confidential Mount Saint Vincent University “Wellness Agreement” that Brody Stuart-Verner was asked to sign. (Brody Stuart-Verner)

Stuart-Verner says he tried to reach out to the university through email but they told him he had misinterpreted the agreement.

“The way I understand that statement is that I can’t talk to any of my friends on campus about how I’m feeling,” Stuart-Verner explains. “It really did lead to a sense of embarrassment and I felt ashamed.”

Stuart-Verner chose to go public now because he doesn’t plan to return to university residence next year. 

After speaking out, Mount Saint Vincent University has now issued a statement on their Facebook page. Paula Barry, the Associate Vice President of Student Experience, writes: “We don’t want any other student to feel the way Brody did. And we’re committed to continually improving. We are consulting with our Students’ Union and will ensure the continued input of mental health professionals as we work to review and modify the agreement.”

Late Tuesday, As It Happens reached Barry for comment. You can listen to that interview here:

Stuart-Verner says he wants the university to change its policy.
“I’m really hoping that in the next little while that they do decide to contact me because I would love to offer whatever insight I have about how they may want to conduct themselves moving forward.”

Retrieved from the CBC

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