A new mental wellness initiative, driven and designed by students, kicks off next week.
The Western Wellness Hub, available to all students, is launching with two six-session courses. The content complements professional support offered through wellness services by helping students to understand and better manage their challenges in order to thrive.
Registration is now open for both courses.
Rooted in the principles of connection, self-identity, hope, meaning and empowerment, the program features educational content and fosters a culture of support through dialogue and listening.
Terry McQuaid, director of wellness and well-being, said the Western Wellness Hub is a valuable addition to the host of existing mental health resources on campus.
“We adopted this program to align with the university’s commitment to providing support and enhancing student wellness and well-being,” McQuaid said. “We already have wellness groups, workshops and programming, but this is different because it is self-initiated and peer-led. It provides a safe space where students can find mutual support, friendship and a place to connect with each other.”
‘For students, by students’
Students play a key role in all aspects of the program, with the idea brought forward by Alyssa Grant-Pereira, BSc’22 and Amy Lee, BSc’22, as a project they completed for a community psychology course during their final year. The pair conducted research and ultimately pitched the idea to McQuaid, who then took it to the wellness and equity education team.
The foundation of the program is based on the Recovery College model of care, which Grant-Pereira became familiar with as a summer student working at CMHA Thames Valley Addition and Mental Health Services. When adapted for the postsecondary setting, a Recovery College brings students with lived mental health experiences together to co-create, co-deliver and discuss courses on topics that support mental health.
“I felt it would be interesting to have something like that at school, thinking a lot of the people would benefit from the ‘by students, for students’ model,” Grant-Pereira said. “Working at (CMHA) Thames Valley, I also noticed there was a lot of mental health vocabulary that was new to me, even though I was a psychology student. Getting help is so much easier once you know how to describe what you’re feeling.”
Lee liked the idea of the students sharing their ‘expertise’ through their own lived experiences.
“It’s very comforting to have others know what you’re experiencing,” she said. “Even if you’re not going through a challenging time yourself, the content is education-based, so you can learn how to support yourself when needed and support others if they’re going through a crisis.”
In partnership with Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, an organization working with six other universities across Canada to develop Recovery College programs, McQuaid’s team ensured Grant-Pereira’s and Lee’s idea went from pitch to program – with input from more students.
Material that matters to students
Wellness education coordinator Huda Ghadban, who is implementing this project, finds the engagement students have shown throughout all stages of the project inspiring.
“Right from the beginning, I could see Alyssa and Amy’s passion,” she said. “They believed in the impact this program could make. It’s always positive for students to have a voice and develop what works for them, and as staff, we’re here to help facilitate this growth and engagement.”
Ghadban has been overseeing two upper-year student facilitators, Kathryn Beri and Moneet Tiwana, as they’ve developed the course content, with the help of a diverse team of 12 students from across campus.
“Working with Ontario Shores, we had, based on a needs assessment, some idea of what students were looking for,” Beri said. “We brought those subjects forward to get the juices flowing and then we let them take the reins and explore.”
Tiwana said it’s been interesting to watch students bond over similar experiences, sharing a safe space and knowing action is being taken to help them manage challenging times or situations.
“I noticed with a lot of conversations, all it took was for one student to say something, and that sparked a huge discussion involving so many others who were perhaps a little shy before. They no longer felt as alone,” she said.
Ghadban said the program will help students realize they can come together without stigma to think and learn about where to access support.
“I think the more opportunities we provide for people to speak about their lived experiences, others will understand from those stories that everyone deals with mental health challenges at some point,” she said.
“Mental health is on a continuum of wellness. Navigating the changes students face in the postsecondary environment also moves on this continuum, and the Western Wellness Hub helps to support students through those transitions.”
Although they are no longer at Western, Grant-Pereira and Lee say it’s been rewarding to see their idea “get off the ground,” and to know other students will benefit.
“It feels surreal,” Grant-Pereira said. “I’m excited about it and I’m glad our vision’s coming true.”
Students are reminded that in addition to the Western Wellness Hub, all appointments at Western Health and Wellness services are free of charge and can be booked in advance by calling 519-661-3030.