HELP­ING STU­DENTS AR­RIVE AND THRIVE

24 Hours Vancouver - - EDUCATION - LINDA WHITE

As de­mand for men­tal health ser­vices among post­sec­ondary stu­dents reaches un­prece­dented lev­els, many schools are tak­ing a pre­ven­ta­tive ap­proach and de­vel­op­ing pro­grams to help stu­dents ‘Ar­rive and Thrive’ as they make the of­ten rocky tran­si­tion to col­lege or univer­sity.

Ar­rive and Thrive is the name of an 18-month project at Hamil­ton’s Mc­Mas­ter Univer­sity de­signed to ex­am­ine pat­terns of stress and cop­ing be­hav­iours among its stu­dents. Funded by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment’s Men­tal Health In­no­va­tion Fund (MIHF), the pro­gram has at­tracted stu­dents im­paired by men­tal ill­nesses like de­pres­sion and bipo­lar dis­or­der but also those who wanted to de­stress or learn cop­ing skills.

“This is dif­fer­ent from treat­ment,” says Mc­Mas­ter psy­chol­o­gist Dr. Catharine Munn. “This isn’t a cure for all that ails you; this is just some­thing to try on for size to see if you like it and to see if it helps you.”

One pro­gram of­fered through the ini­tia­tive, for ex­am­ple, teaches mind­ful­ness, med­i­ta­tion and stress man­age­ment. An­other con­nected stu­dents with a coun­sel­lor to as­sess and dis­cuss their use of sub­stances, in­clud­ing rea­sons for use and mo­ti­va­tion to change their use. Stu­dents could also take part in na­ture walks. CHAL­LENG­ING TRAN­SI­TION

The tran­si­tion top post­sec­ondary is chal­leng­ing for nu­mer­ous rea­sons, in­clud­ing the stress of mov­ing away from home and the cost of earn­ing a diploma and/or de­gree. “The stres­sors are dif­fer­ent for many of to­day’s stu­dents,” Munn says. “They have part-time jobs and there are a lot of things they have to do to make them­selves com­pet­i­tive in the job mar­ket and to get into grad school or pro­fes­sional school.”

At the same time, they’re in a pe­riod of de­vel­op­men­tal chal­lenges. “Most men­tal health prob­lems be­gin be­fore the age of 25…and this is the time when most peo­ple in North Amer­ica find them­selves in school,” says Munn.

In Sar­nia, Lambton Col­lege is work­ing with stu­dents well be­fore they even step foot on a col­lege or univer­sity cam­pus. “Our pro­gram specif­i­cally tar­gets stu­dents in the tran­si­tion mind­set to help them pre­pare for the world they’re go­ing to be en­ter­ing,” says pro­fes­sor Char­lene Ma­hon, fac­ulty ad­vi­sor on the col­lege’s Let’s Face It pro­gram (also funded by the MIHF).

As part of the multi-faceted pro­gram, teams of Lambton stu­dents visit area high schools and de­liver pre­sen­ta­tions to open the con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal health and to dis­cuss stress and healthy means of cop­ing. “From my own ex­pe­ri­ence, I know the tran­si­tion can be very hard,” says team mem­ber Austin Noble. STO­RIES OF SUC­CESS

He had a “strong sup­port sys­tem” but was “def­i­nitely stressed” when it came time to ac­cept an of­fer of ad­mis­sion to a pre-ser­vice fire­fight­ing train­ing pro­gram. Leav­ing his fam­ily and friends “was one of the hard­est times in my life…I didn’t know any­body at Lambton and was very home­sick.”

When his girl­friend broke up with him by text on the first day of class, Noble re­treated to his room. He cred­its a good friend from home with lis­ten­ing and giv­ing him the en­cour­age­ment he needed to “get back on track” and re­turn to things he loved, like mak­ing friends and ex­er­cis­ing.

The Lambton team vis­its high schools at key times: when stu­dents are con­tem­plat­ing post-se­condary choices, af­ter re­ceiv­ing their marks from first se­mes­ter (which could im­pact their of­fers of ac­cep­tance) and as they near grad­u­a­tion.

“The pur­pose is for (high school) stu­dents to re­al­ize they’re not alone. There are stu­dents who are just ahead of you and this is how they nav­i­gated the waters,” says Ma­hon. (Lambton will fol­low stu­dents who were part of Let’s Face It in high school to see if the pro­gram makes a dif­fer­ence over the long term.)

Let’s Face It also in­cludes ini­tia­tives for Lambton stu­dents, in­clud­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and work­shops that fo­cus on stress re­lief and build­ing a com­mu­nity of sup­port, as well as stu­dent-to-stu­dent men­tor­ing to help stu­dents build strength and re­silience.

Visit the Cen­tre for In­no­va­tion in Cam­pus Men­tal Health at www.cam­pus­men­tal­health.ca to learn about other ini­tia­tives.

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