Mental Health Services Essential to GPRC Student Success
Friday, December 4th, 2020
Mack Eidt, fourth-year psychology student.
GPRC has released 5GPRC, a five-year student centred, future focused administrative strategy that will lead our College in becoming the northern centre of post-secondary excellence in Alberta. The administrative strategy focuses on five key priorities to guide the work of our institution into the bright future ahead. The fourth priority is inclusion and student experience which focuses on expanding our mental health services, advancing Indigenous engagement, and increasing access to digital programming. GPRC recognizes the importance of a well-rounded college experience and contributes accessible and comprehensive mental health services as being a significant part of achieving that positive experience. We are pleased to shine light on the importance of mental health services and showcase how students can access these services 24/7 with confidence.
Mental health services are essential and GPRC is proud to provide these supports to our students.
When COVID-19 first hit and the world went into lockdown, Mack Eidt found herself paralyzed with fear about what would happen. “I had a bad experience with pneumonia in high school and was really stressing out about getting the virus,” says the fourth-year psychology student. “I found myself totally unable to manage all the stress and fear with my schoolwork.”
After a spiral that lasted a few days, Eidt reached out for help through GPRC’s My Student Support Program (MySSP). The free online counselling program, available 24/7, 365 days a year, helped normalize her fears. It gave her resources and tools for self-care she still uses today to keep herself grounded and live a well-balanced personal and academic life.
It’s because of these kinds of mental health supports that Eidt knows she made the right choice in coming to GPRC, she says. “Counselling and the psychologists available through MySSP have made my life immensely easier during tough times, and these are resources that I'm thankful GPRC has made available to us,” she says.
“I enjoy college so much more when I feel I'm valued and cared for as a student.”
Having access to additional support is essential for those navigating the rollercoaster of the demanding post-secondary environment, says GPRC’s on-site registered psychologist, Katharine Stabb.
Post-secondary students are not only going through a time-of-life transition but juggling heavy course loads with personal demands, increased responsibilities and new learning formats. “Any period of transition is inherently stressful even if it’s positive, but this year has led to more transition and change than anyone bargained for. People need to recognise they are going through a lot and it’s normal to feel more stressed than usual,” says Stabb.
“We want our students to complete their studies with not only the knowledge obtained in their courses but also important life skills and coping tools that will serve them throughout their life span.”
As the manager of the three-person mental health team at GPRC, the majority of Stabb’s days are spent providing individual counselling to students. In addition to supervising other team members and providing reporting for grants to enhance mental health programming for students, Stabb also sits on several committees that facilitate and streamline access to community mental health resources offered off campus.
Her colleague, Nicole Lalonde, is a licensed counsellor, while the third member of the team, Amanda Balsillie, is a registered social worker who runs mental health workshops on topics such as suicide prevention for frontline staff, promoting well-being and reducing the stigma around mental illness.
In addition to unlimited online counselling through MySSP, students are able to access short-term personal counselling services on-campus, over the phone or through teleconferencing. “This could involve between six to eight sessions per semester, but on average we see students for about four sessions before they find their needs are met,” says Stabb.
“However, depression, anxiety, and stress come in various degrees of severity. Where there may be severe mental illness, eating disorders or complex trauma, long-term intervention or a specialised clinical program would be a better fit and so we would refer the student to an appropriate community program close to campus.”
While the stigma around mental health has been greatly reduced in recent years, the need to increase education about it at a systemic level persists, says Stabb. “If we educated people on mental health and effective coping skills, resilience and mindfulness the same way we educate about healthy eating and physical fitness, that would greatly reduce the stigma.”
Talking to a stranger about things that are not going well takes a lot of courage under any circumstances, Stabb points out. “It’s more to do with the sensitive nature of what people bring in and uncertainty about whether they will connect or relate to their counsellor. It makes sense for people to be a little apprehensive and I try to normalize that in my sessions. It can be a difficult first step for anyone.”
For Eidt, who plans to become a therapist after graduation, keeping the conversation open is one of the best ways to go about destigmatizing mental health struggles. “I think we are capable of bringing our best to the table when the institutions we rely on for education put faith back into us through access to mental health resources that actually work,” she says.
“All of us are struggling or have struggled at some point in our post-secondary career, and there’s no reason we should remain silent. As students, we should remember to prioritize ourselves, too.”
For more information, to make a counselling appointment or register for a free workshop, students can call Mental Health Services at 780-539-2069 or visit their website.
To learn more about 5GPRC, visit GPRC.me/5GPRC.