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Students should take opportunities to get engaged with campus mental health

By Krishna Shetye, September 23 2020 —

In the spirit of raising student engagement with the Students’ Union Wellness Centre, this piece is meant to raise awareness about various initiatives the Wellness Center has that students may not know about. Health promotion team members, Mandy McCaughley and Kirstin Kot, sat down with the Gauntlet to discuss these initiatives and how these opportunities can be accessed by students. 

McCaughley is the community training coordinator at the Wellness Centre, whose self-described role is to “oversee and facilitate and schedule programs within the mental health and wellness training portfolio.” According to McCaughley, there are a “number of trainings on campus that students, faculty, and staff can take part in to improve mental health literacy as well as our community’s capacity to properly address situations where people are in distress.” 

These trainings, such as suicide intervention, come as part of programs like the community helpers program, which equips helpers with skills needed to intervene when someone is in distress. McCaughley works to make these trainings accessible both on a monthly basis and by request for various individuals and groups across campus. 

Kot, who acts as a student support advisor, works closely with McCaughley in the health promotion aspect of student wellness through volunteer programs. Currently, the pair are working on an initiative to virtualize the Campus Community Hub, an area at UCalgary, dedicated to wellness and social activities led by students. They also conduct outreach initiatives in order to raise student awareness about programs offered for students.

When asked about student involvement, McCaughley mentioned that the health promotion team does have student volunteers (mainly undergraduate) who are “part of the wellness and health awareness team.”

“We work really closely with them in terms of brainstorming different ideas for promotion,” she said. “I know our Peer Listening program has done a lot with student groups as well in terms of even some research around different ways of promoting specifically the peer listening program on campus.”

When asked how students were to apply for volunteer roles with the health promotion team or other programs, McCaughley says that the main application period starts in the spring in order to prepare for the coming academic year. 

“So kind of around that March, April, usually, if our spots aren’t filled. We’re open through the summer as well, for any students that would like to apply,” she said.

Information about the teams would be up on the Wellness Centre website and the word is typically spread through social media, newsletters, and posted on the website

Kot also added that in the fall there are occasionally spots that are left on the team.

“What we would do, as well in previous years, is take down students’ information at things like Campus Expo with orientation and later email them with the next volunteer cycle,” said Kot.

Another way to get involved that Kot mentioned is to make an appointment with the Leadership and Student Engagement office (LSE). The LSE website also has the current opportunities with the Wellness Centre and ways that students can apply.

“You could meet with a staff member there and tell them about your interest. And then from there, you could be referred to things that were related to your interest that could be a good fit. So [the health promotion team] has always passed along information to [the LSE] to share with potential students.”

Aside from the actual marketing and communications team, McCaughley says that health promotion is ever-evolving based on new ideas brainstormed in team meetings and student ideas.

“We know that the needs of students can change over time as well, depending on what’s happening in a semester. So we are open to continually, at every volunteer meeting that we have, get that information about how we can best support students through what we’re doing.”

McCaughley and Kot also acknowledged the difficulties in reaching such a large population of students, especially now. 

“I know we do have a big campus,” says McCaughley “and a lot of programming. I know, too, that sometimes we do run up against the barrier of knowing that students do have very busy semesters, so we try to increase our accessibility by being more flexible in our availability. That’s been something that our team is always mindful of.”

On adjusting to the new online format that programs will have to be delivered by, both Kot and McCaughley were optimistic.

“We’ve been very creative, in terms of things being online, keeping in mind that some of our training programs are a couple of hours long. So we’re trying to figure out how to shorten our Zoom programming since students are going to be on Zoom for a lot of their classes. Basically trying to modify [Zoom programs] in some ways to ensure that it still feels accessible and doesn’t feel super overwhelming in terms of that screen time.”

Overall, the health promotion team from the wellness centre is very open to suggestions and requests from students. Getting involved and engaged with the services might be just what we need to stick together as a campus community in these difficult times.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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