MSVU drops clause that forbid some residence students from discussing suicidal thoughts

Mount Saint Vincent University has changed a clause that forbade some students who signed a wellness agreement from telling other students in residence about their “personal issues.”

As Global News first reported in May, student Brody Stuart-Verner was asked to sign the agreement during the 2015-2016 school year, after confiding to a residence life staff member that he’d been having suicidal thoughts.

He “will not discuss or engage in conversations with residence students regarding personal issues, namely the student’s self-destructive thoughts,” the second clause read.

Breaking the agreement would result in his lease being terminated.

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“I was in such a fragile state that I felt like they had my best interests in mind. I felt like I should sign it, go along with it, I didn’t really feel like I had any leeway, I just wanted to get better,” said Stuart-Verner in May, adding that he had major depression.

He called the agreement “absolutely absurd.”

A day after the original story, the university said it would review and modify the agreement. A spokesperson also apologized that Stuart-Verner felt isolated.

In a statement to Global News, Paula Barry Mercer, associate vice-president of student experience, said that mental health experts, the university’s students’ union, and Stuart-Verner were a few of the people who gave input on changing the agreement.

READ MORE: MSVU ‘very sorry’ student felt isolated because of wellness agreement

There is no longer a confidentiality requirement in the agreement.

The biggest change is to the second clause, which now states the student should: “utilize the appropriate supports […] to avoid causing potential distress to other residence students (the university understands that some resident students may not have the emotional maturity to assist others who are experiencing mental health issues).”

“In my view, ‘potential distress’ is very hard to define. It’s a very vague term,” said Stuart-Verner over Skype from Charlottetown, adding he’s concerned with how the university could use the clause.

He said he only told two other students, one of whom was living in residence, about feeling suicidal.

Stuart-Verner, who doesn’t plan to live in residence for the upcoming school year, said he asked the university how many people complained about him, but didn’t get that information.

“There are many people who know me at the Mount that know that I wasn’t causing distress to anyone… and that leads me to believe that there were no students,” he said.

The university did not have a spokesperson available for an interview.

“We are grateful for the input of Brody, our Students’ Union leadership and other Mount community members throughout this review process. It is our sincere commitment to ensure the best possible supports for all Mount students,” said Barry Mercer in the statement.

She also said that, of the six agreements that were signed by students at the university in the past three years, three had the same second clause Stuart-Verner took issue with.

“I do feel like this story has helped make these wellness agreements a lot more transparent and visible to everyone, and I feel like that’s very important,” said Stuart-Verner, adding that he’s grateful the university included him in changing the original clause.

Stuart-Verner says he no longer has suicidal thoughts.