Content warning: Discussions of mental illness and self-harm.
I am grateful that Western University puts many resources into providing mental health services for their students. I have used these resources and they have helped me get through some difficult times.
However, there is a difference between providing help and imposing it.
Last week, I called the front desk asking for someone to bandage a cut I had on my wrist. The Student Emergency Response Team came and said that I had to go to the hospital for stitches. The residence manager also talked to me about my mental health and what supports I would need going forward. I assured her that I was coping well with my depression. I was seeing a psychiatrist, counsellor and was on medication. So, my cut was taken care of, and I had supports in place for my mental health. End of story, right?
I am 20 years old. The residence manager insisted that I call my parents to pick me up from the hospital. I explicitly told her that I was not going to do that and assured her I would tell them about my hospital trip in my own time. It was then that I realized I had no choice in the matter because she was going to call them if I didn’t. As you can imagine, this made things much worse.
Reaching out for help was a stressful experience on its own, but can you imagine having your autonomy and privacy taken away because of it?
Autonomy is an important right that respects an individual’s dignity. It acknowledges that one is capable of making decisions for themselves and has the freedom to do so, within legal limits. I was shocked that the residence manager was able to bypass this right, so I started examining the residence contract, namely the Self Care and Safety Plan, which is in place to “help you realize that your mental health and well-being is a shared responsibility.” This plan allows Western, among other things, to contact parents without consent “out of concern for your well-being."
These rules are reflective of paternalism, something that is ethically controversial in medical practice and has somehow found its way into Western’s residence contract. Even though you may tell a residence manager the same thing you would tell a counsellor or psychiatrist, they are not bound by the same obligation to confidentiality.
I appreciate Western’s consideration for its students, but I will not be reaching out to residence again until Western finds a better balance between providing support and respecting the autonomy of its students. I am not discouraging anyone from reaching out when help is needed; my goal is to make this information available to my peers so they can make an informed decision regarding who they reach out to and how their rights are protected. There are many counsellors, psychiatrists and services on and off campus that respect the right to confidentiality, but residence policy is not one of them.
— Third-year student*
*A name is not being used to protect the writer's privacy.