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Georgian College creates mental health peer support program

New program, thanks to $100K donation, will 'provide non-clinical mental health support to both full- and part-time students'
Georgian College is using a $100,000 donation from the Bell Let’s Talk Post-Secondary Fund to enhance student mental health supports with a new student mental health and well-being peer supporter team. Pictured standing, from left, are Chinnu Joseph, Isha Patel, Rebecca Thivierge, Zabrina Wick, Drishti Tiwari. Kneeling, from left, are Madhu Dhakal and Anuj Amin.

Georgian College will enhance existing mental health services across all campuses thanks to $100,000 from the Bell Let’s Talk Post-Secondary Fund.

With this new investment, the college will add a student mental health peer support program to its mental health and well-being resources.

Peer support is a nationally and internationally recognized prevention and support strategy in mental health care, and it will become part of Georgian’s stepped-care model of supports.

“Bell Let’s Talk is pleased to provide a $100,000 Post-Secondary Fund grant for a peer support program for students at Georgian College,” said Mary Deacon, chair of Bell Let’s Talk. “Bell Let’s Talk is committed to continuing to support student mental health and well-being to create positive change for mental health.”

Jennifer Lloyd, manager, mental health and well-being (MHWB) at Georgian, said given the increase and onset of mental health challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic among post-secondary students and the demand for mental health support, the college determined that empowering students and using their abilities to support one another safely and effectively is an important opportunity to pursue.

“The success of Georgian’s peer mentor and niwijiagan peer mentor programs demonstrates the value of student-to-student support,” said Lloyd. “Until now, Georgian hasn’t had a peer support program specifically for mental health. This new program is intended to provide non-clinical mental health support to both full- and part-time students across all our campus locations.”

Lloyd added that successfully supporting student mental health begins with ensuring equitable access to a range of student-centred services within a stepped-care model. The MHWB peer support program also supports Georgian’s efforts to reduce stigma related to mental health and seeking help.

Data analysis from extensive consultations with students and employees indicated that the development and implementation of a mental health peer support program should be a key priority in the college’s MHWB strategic plan.

The MHWB peer support team includes an MHWB peer support project manager and co-ordinator who will be responsible for the daily operations of the program, and 10 MHWB peer supporters who are upper-year Georgian students. They will provide direct mental health support to peers seeking assistance and will be required to have lived experience with their own journey of mental health challenges and managing, overcoming, and/or living with that challenge.

The MHWB peer supporters will receive extensive training in accordance with the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s peer support guidelines, including:

  • Key principles of peer support
  • Suicide prevention and supporting through crisis
  • Supportive communication practices
  • Techniques for providing text-based support
  • Trauma-informed practices
  • Personal and professional boundaries
  • Resiliency, self-care, and personal growth

The program launches in February.