RBC suing med student with mental illness

By in Opinions

School stress is bad enough with essays, exams, extracurricular activities and a lack of sleep, but if you add in mental health struggles and loan repayments, then you’re in for one hell of a ride.

One of the ways you can pay for your post-secondary education — and a route that most students take when they cannot afford the costs upfront — is getting a loan. Some choose government student loans and others choose a line of credit from a bank, both of which have their ups and downs.

RBC Sue - Supplied
Bryan Robson had to drop out of medicine after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Some students choose to work while they’re in school to provide for their education and their living expenses, but many students — especially those enrolled in professional programs — may not have the time to focus on school and have a job at the same time. This is what happened to Bryan Robson when he was trying to pursue his Doctor of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Making the decision to get a line of credit was easy,” Robson told the Sheaf. “Most medicine students aren’t thinking about the money involved, they’re just thinking about their future.”

So what happens when you can no longer finish your program? A couple of years into his degree, Robson began to display signs of bipolar disorder that were negatively impacting his health, causing him to frequently be absent from school, and therefore, affecting his academic performance.

The pressure put on him by pursuing a medical degree caused the symptoms to become more prominent. While the College of Medicine did what they could to convince him to stay in the program, he eventually realized he had to discontinue his studies.

“The college, they [did] their best, but they can only do so much,” Robson said.

When Robson began to go through the process of filing for disability insurance on his $170,000 student line of credit with the Royal Bank of Canada, he was met with a lot of pushback from the bank — which is now suing him for the money that he has no feasible route to pay back.

Robson tried to explain his situation of psychiatric disability to a representative from RBC’s collections department and argued that, if he had a physical disability, the whole situation would be a lot different. It did not go well.

“[The representative] said, ‘Well, that’s different, mental health is different,’” Robson said. “‘You’re not the right type of disabled,’ basically.”

According to Robson, RBC later claimed to have no records of the phone conversation. This prompted Robson to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The lawsuit is far from over, but Robson is hoping that talking about his predicament openly and honestly will shed more light on the issue of student mental health and finances.

“This whole thing highlighted to me the anti-human way these institutions operate in,” Robson said.

Bank institutions can exploit the feelings and needs of their student clients trying to get through university. Often banks can sell you things that you don’t really need and don’t care if you can’t pay back the money you owe them.

Disabilities and financial struggles aside — the bottom line is that they want money from you.

One of the best tactics that we can take, as students and as citizens, is to talk about these things and hold these institutions accountable in our press. Going public with our grievances forces them to listen, because if there’s one thing that mega corporations like banks love holding onto, it’s their reputation.

We also need to support each other through the stigma we all face regarding our mental health. If you have experienced something like this and are comfortable talking about it, I encourage you to be open.

Your story is important and valid and begging to be shared with the world. You are the driver of the car that is your life and finances, and do not let anyone pull the wheel away from you.

Kay-Lynne Collier

Photo: Bryan Robson / Supplied