Wednesday, 17 August 2016 13:27

Local, provincial student associations thankful money available to offer mental health initiatives

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August is quickly heading to a conclusion and with it brings the start of a new post-secondary school year and some apprehension.


While some of those feelings of nervousness are minor for some, other students may have major fears and concerns brought on by a variety of reasons.
At the Medicine Hat College, the Peers Support Centre, is ready for the new challenges.
It has been recognized on a provincial scale for its innovative programs with the Alberta Students’ Executive Council award for Mental Health Initiatives on Campus.
Stephanie Power, peer support co-ordinator and registered social worker, says the peer support centre works because of the commitment and empathy of its student volunteers
Power says those needing assistance feel more comfortable talking to a fellow student.
“Because we train peer support and it’s a student-led initiative, it’s more likely that  those needing help feel their (counselling support) are more likely to listen and understand what they’re going through,” explains Power. “There’s still a stigma surrounding a student talking to an (older) professional. If it’s a peer talking to you, it’s not so odd or awkward.”
She notes during peer support training students learn about peer support counselling skills, suicide intervention skills, communication concepts, conflict resolution skills, self-care skills, and health promotion strategies.
In addition to providing peer support services to students, peer support volunteers will also plan awareness events on campus related to mental health, stress reduction, suicide prevention, sexual health, and drug and alcohol use.
The Peer Support Centre Team, consists of Power, the peer support co-ordinator; Vice-President Student Life Michael Fritzler, who is also looking after the Under the Rainbow Community Group which provides support services for the LGBTQ community and its supporters, and there are also peer support volunteers who are trained to deliver quality peer support services.
Power says that in today’s economy, a lot of students aren’t used to dealing with harsh economic realities once they leave home.
There could also be other factors in effect which involve social dynamics, pressure to succeed academically because of a career change or even being a single parent.
The peer support centre at Medicine Hat first opened in 1997, but then closed for a long period of time. It opened in 2010 and has been a success ever since.
Power says a key to its success is the community partners who not only help train, but offer support and resources.
“They also often help us set up fun activities for students. For example, the Canadian Mental Health Association sets up a stress ball pit, and Divine Guidance often offers meditation,” she explains.
Power adds their community partners include: Alberta Health Services (Mental Health and Addictions), Alberta Health Services (Sexual Health program), the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society, the McMan Colour Me Free Program, the Sexual Assault Response Committee of Medicine Hat, Community Food Connections, HIV Community Link, Nirvana 101, Divine Guidance, Medicine Hat Police Service, and more.
Money has been put aside by the Alberta provincial government and on Aug. 9, the provincial students organization thanked the government for continuing the funding.
“In 2013 the Alberta Students’ Executive Council received $2 million in order to build mental health initiatives on campuses across Alberta. Since 2013 student-lead mental health initiatives have reached over 215,000 students at 16 post-secondary institutions across Alberta,” Allannah Wrobel, chair of the Alberta Students’ Executive Council, said regarding the Alberta Campus Mental Health Innovation Grant. “Through the Alberta Campus Mental Health Innovation Grant the Alberta Students’ Executive Council has forged working relationships with nearly 1,000 campus and community partners in order to provide mental health resources to students — over 800 campaigns and events, 60 services new to campuses, and training for hundreds of peer support students.
“These initiatives have facilitated the Alberta Students’ Executive Council to work together with student leaders and address the challenges students face regarding mental health. We thank the Government of Alberta for their support of the Alberta Campus Mental Health Innovation Grant and look forward to continuing to work together to provide solutions that bring crisis-intervention and mental health prevention and promotion to campus.”
Those interested in becoming a peer supporter at the Medicine Hat College, can stop by the Students Association office located in the F Wing or phone 403-502-8992.
One can also check out the services on Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/174735956/32cc4f2b8b.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor