Medicine Hat College is one of five Canadian post-secondary institutions taking part in Health Canada and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s three-year Campus Peer Support pilot project.
“We were connected to the possibility of this partnership through our local CMHA chapter back in the fall,” Kerslake said. “We went through a pretty extensive interview process with the national CMHA to qualify. We’re really proud and excited we’ve been chosen.”
The project was created to address student mental health concerns, which studies show have increased since the beginning of COVID.
“With the pandemic, the already intense pressures on students have become extreme, at a time when their support networks have also been eroded,” CMHA CEO Margaret Eaton said in a statement Friday. “When a young person is struggling, having the support of someone who has been there can change – and even save – that person’s life.”
The project connects students struggling with mental health or substance use to peer supports with lived experience. Peer supports will help students navigate campus counselling and professional services, and connect them to community resources, like the local CMHA.
Of the project’s five pilot institutions, MHC is the only college; joining Trent University and the universities of P.E.I, New Brunswick and B.C.
MHC administrators are developing training curriculum for peer supports, but hope to have the project up and running by late September.
“I think the ability to support students on every step of their journey personally, and in the classroom, while they’re connected to MHC is really vital,” Kerslake said. “By integrating a robust peer support program into our institution, it will not only support our student population, but our overall region as well.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with our local CMHA office through the training and implementation of curriculum (as) the program will align across multiple services internally at the college, as well as branch out to the community through our local CMHA office.”
Funding for the project, which totals $2 million over three years, will be divided between the pilot sites and their respective local CMHAs. Funding will also be used to compensate supports.
Kerslake says peer support candidates will go through an extensive application and training process to ensure they can adequately support the student they are paired with.
Kerslake hopes the program will help MHC students feel seen, supported and connected throughout their academic career.
“To us, the utmost success is for our students to feel like they are taken care of,” she said.
KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News