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A Halifax University Asked A Student To Sign A Gag Order About His Mental Health

The student signed a contract that said he would be kicked out of residence if he broke the "wellness agreement."

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Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax says it's revising its policies after the school asked a suicidal student not to discuss his mental health with others or risk being kicked out of student residence.

Mount Saint Vincent University

MSVU backtracked after Global News reported on the school's treatment of a third-year public relations student.

Brody Stuart-Verner told the TV outlet that he was depressed and feeling suicidal last fall. The school asked him to sign a confidential "wellness agreement" that stipulated he would not "discuss or engage in conversations with residence students regarding personal issues, namely the student’s self-destructive thoughts.”

Stuart-Verner also agreed to keep the agreement itself secret.

"Should you break this agreement, you understand that you will have to vacate your room in residence and your lease will be terminated," the agreement said.

.@globalhalifax @ 6: @MSVU_Halifax student discusses agreement forbidding him telling others about feeling suicidal.

Stuart-Verner, who was 19 at the time, told Global News that he was pressured to sign, though he initially felt the school legitimately wanted to help him get better.

Under the agreement, he said he would seek out counselling and call a mental health hotline if he was having a crisis.

But as time went on, he felt unable to speak openly with his friends about what was going on in his life. He told Global News he felt "ashamed and embarrassed" by not being able to discuss his feelings.

Student Brody Stuart-Verner says agreement later left him "ashamed and embarrassed of how I was feeling." #Halifax

MSVU's vice president for student experience initially defended the wellness agreement as appropriate in some cases. “Sometimes listening to your friends’ suicidal ideations or thoughts of self-destructive behaviour can take a real emotional toll on students,” Paula Barry said.

Global News / Via globalnews.ca

But on Tuesday, the school said the policy needed work.

"This situation is not in keeping with the Mount’s stance on mental illness," Barry said in a statement posted to the school's Facebook page. "We are committed to the health and wellbeing of all of our students and we work very hard to ensure they are supported."

A spokesperson for the school told BuzzFeed Canada that two such wellness agreements were used in the past year, and that only Stuart-Verner's included language barring him from speaking about his mental health with other students.

"The university sincerely regrets that Brody felt isolated by this agreement, and Paula Barry has already begun work to review this approach — a review that will involve the input of students and mental health professionals," the school said in an email.

UPDATE

Brody Stuart-Verner told BuzzFeed Canada that the school still hasn't taken full responsibility for the way he was treated, calling Tuesday's announcement "nothing more than a last-ditch effort to save face."

He said he reached out to MSVU on May 4 to talk about the wellness agreement, and was assured he would receive a response within a week. "That phone call never came," Stuart-Verner said.

"They have promised to 'review and modify' the agreement, which sounds promising. But again, it took nationwide media coverage and mounting public pressure in order for them to say that."

Stuart-Verner said he wants the MSVU to re-examine the way in which they conduct future cases like his, and include students, faculty, and medical professionals in the process.

"I, like many others, simply want transparency and an open dialogue," he said. "No more hypocrisy, no more nondisclosure agreements."

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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