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University student says school muzzled discussion of his depression

Brody Stuart-Verner poses for a portrait in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Stuart-Verner, a university student struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts says he was forbidden from talking about his mental health problems with peers because of a school policy that carried the threat of eviction from residence if he violated the agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Nathan Rochford
May 18, 2016 - 1:28 PM

HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia student who faced eviction from his university residence if he talked to his peers about his mental-health issues says he's glad Mount Saint Vincent University is overhauling its so-called wellness agreements after he went public with his story.

Brody Stuart-Verner said Wednesday he was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts last fall when he sought help from a residence assistant, and was later taken to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

When he returned, the 19-year-old said he was asked by a residence manager to sign the agreement, which stipulated he not talk to other residence students about personal issues, "namely the student's self-destructive thoughts."

The agreement, dated Oct. 5, 2015, also stated that he should instead call the Kids Help Phone or a mental health crisis team, and then security if he still had suicidal thoughts.

"I laughed when I first read those first two stipulations because I knew there was something fishy about them, but at the time I trusted them," he said in an interview from Charlottetown where he is working for the summer.

"I went a whole year not talking about it because if I did talk about the agreement I would have been removed from residence."

The confidential agreement also orders him to attend counselling and follow up with a family physician.

"I wanted to get better and I'd never been presented with an agreement like this before," he said. "And I felt that they knew what they were doing. They're in charge of many residents."

Stuart-Verner, a third-year student of public relations, said a university official called him Wednesday to apologize for how the incident was handled.

"She said, 'We take responsibility for this,'" he said, quoting Paula Barry, associate vice-president of student experience. "She also told me that a policy like the one I signed will not be used again at Mount Saint Vincent University."

He said Barry also asked him to take part in a process to draft a new wellness policy.

"That's exactly what I wanted to accomplish with all of this," he said. "And I would like to see what the revised version is."

A university spokeswoman later confirmed the wellness agreement forms will be revamped.

Earlier, Barry issued a statement on the school's Facebook page saying the policy was intended to support rather than isolate students in crisis.

"This situation is not in keeping with the Mount’s stance on mental illness," Barry's post said.

"We are committed to the health and wellbeing of all of our students and we work very hard to ensure they are supported. That is why this situation is especially upsetting ... We don’t want any other student to feel the way Brody did."

Stuart-Verner's mother, Sandy Stuart, said she was proud of her son for going public with his complaint.

"I am shocked that the school would make him sign that," she said, adding that he was initially apprehensive about telling his story. "I said, 'Brody you're speaking for a lot of people who are having these thoughts that are afraid to do anything."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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