KPU Sports and Rec, the Peer Support Program, and the KSA Teach Students How to Thrive

October was Mental Health Awareness Month, so the KPU community came together in a series of events to let students know that support systems are out there

3rd year marketing student and KPU Sports and Recreation Student Assistant, James Ho uses the treadmill in the Fitness Centre. (Braden Klassen)

College and university students who battle mental illnesses often feel like they’re alone in their fight. The organizers of Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Thrive Week sought to let those students know that there’s always someone willing to help.

Beginning on Oct. 23, KPU’s third annual Thrive Week encompassed over 50 events taking place on all four campuses. The campaign was created to bring the university community together to support students, faculty, and staff in promoting physical and mental wellness, according to Codie Hindle, KPU Coordinator of Athletic Facilities and Events.

Hindle says that KPU’s sports and recreation department sits “at the helm” of Thrive Week, but it also works in tandem with the Kwantlen Student Association, the Peer Support program, and other members of the KPU community.

“We have a broad array of students on different campuses, and we need to make sure that we don’t leave anybody out,” says Hindle.

To him, Thrive Week is for students to have “an outlet in times of need,” and for them to be able to access a myriad of resources such as physical activity programs, counselors, academic advisors, and library resources.

“Open your eyes to everything that’s happening around the campus,” he says.

A More Mindful U and the Mental Health Resources Fair

This October, as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Kwantlen Student Association VP External Affairs Caitlin McCutchen created a month-long campaign called A More Mindful U. In addition to raising awareness of mental health issues, McCutchen also wants to let students know about the resources provided by the KSA, KPU, and the surrounding community.

She says she was inspired to start the campaign because the KSA had never done anything like it before, and because she has been personally affected by mental illness.

“Everyone will be affected by it, whether it’s you personally or your friends, family, or colleagues,” says McCutchen.

Because universities pay for the mental health services they provide to students, the KSA is also petitioning as part of the campaign to have $40 million worth of provincial funding distributed to all public B.C. post-secondary institutions. With these funds, the schools would be able to provide “targeted mental health funding” to help supplement the resources already available.

While McCutchen praises KPU’s counselling services, she says there is usually a two-week waiting period before students get to see a counselor. Additional funding would help KPU shorten that wait time and alleviate pressure on other universities with longer line-ups to see mental health professionals.

A More Mindful U also included various workshops and events that encouraged students to both share their personal stories of mental illness and learn how to help those around them who might be struggling.

“If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness or mood disorder, you’re not alone,” says McCutchen. “Even if one person gets the help they need from this campaign, I would feel like I did something successful.”

KPU’s Mental Health Resource Fair, held on Oct. 19, highlighted the various physical and mental wellness services available to KPU students, such as counseling, academic advising, the health and dental plan, and the MyWellness app. McCutchen volunteered at the event and will continue to speak out about how to dissolve negative and misinformed attitudes towards those with mental illnesses.

“The more conversations we have about mental health, the more people are willing to get the help they really need to succeed,” she says.

Members of Peer Support Program pose with representatives from the KSA at the Pieces of Mind conference. (Braden Klassen)

The KPU Peer Support Program

Jennifer Lingbaoan, a KPU student and member of KPU’s Peer Support program, says that she and her colleagues each “try to be that center person to direct people where they need to go” when they are struggling.

“Where someone might often reach out to a friend first, and maybe never a professional, we hope to be that in between,” Lingbaoan says.

She adds that most volunteers with the program are KPU students or alumni, because students in need are often more open to speaking with peers who understand campus culture and the hardships of going through university.

Peer Support volunteers are trained to provide confidential, one-on-one support. They are available to students looking to confide in someone who understands their issues, but typically they end up exploring heavier topics with their peers. If a student’s issue is recognized as serious by Peer Support members, they will likely be referred to professional counsellors.

The KPU Peer Support program hosts many awareness-based events, including workshops and conferences, but it hopes to extend its services to wellness programming.

The Pieces of Mind Mental Health Conference

Hosted by KPU Peer Support, the Pieces of Mind Mental Health Conference was held on the university’s Surrey campus on Oct. 24.

The event featured several speakers, a presentation by the YMCA, and a keynote address by Joshua Rivedal, who specializes in integrating theatre into discussions about mental health. It also featured several exhibits categorized by the five dimensions of wellness—physical, mental, social, spiritual, and financial.

McCutchen and KPU President Alan Davis opened the conference by speaking not of their roles at the university, but of their own battles with mental illness.

Davis showed a rarely-seen vulnerability as he recalled how his father died following a long battle with cancer during Davis’s final year of university. During exam season, he says that he couldn’t concentrate on his studies because he was combatting newfound mental health issues.

“I suffered a trauma,” Davis said. “In retrospect, it was a terrible trauma.”

At his roommate’s suggestion, Davis sought help through a doctor who treated him and listened to his story. He was later admitted into graduate school.

“Peer support is vitally important. You never know, it could be years later before somebody sees the impact of your willingness to share and care,” he said.

McCutchen spoke about how the stress of her academic workload at the beginning of the year made her feel “burnt out,” and how she hid her stress and anxiety out of fear, suffering to the point where she could not get out of bed to go to class or work.

She decided to get professional help because her schedule and stress was taking her away from the things she loved in life.

For students attending the conference, she hoped that “by the end of the day, you’ve asked yourself, ‘How do you thrive, and how can you ensure that those around you are also thriving?’”

KPU student Calvin Tiu aka Kalvonix delivers a spoken-word performance to the audience at the Pieces of Mind Conference. (Braden Klassen)

Student Testimonials

Two student speakers also presented at the event, recounting their personal battles with mental illness and how they found healing by sharing their experiences with others.

One of the students, Yusra Said, talked about how she dealt with anxiety during her first year of university, when she was deeply affected by a family member’s bout with depression. At the time, she chose to remain silent out of fear of being a burden to others, but later sought help through friends and counselling in her fourth year of university.

“I’m not saying that counselling has solved everything,” she said. “But it did allow me to face my thoughts, my feelings, like I never had before.”

Her peer, Calvin Tiu, recounted how he was bullied throughout his youth due to his disability, and how he eventually grew to love himself through his passion for rap and musical storytelling.

When he was suffering from mental illness, Tiu said he began to withdraw from the world, spending less time eating, hanging out with friends, and producing music. After a friend who recognized these warning signs confronted him about it, they told him it was okay to feel the way that he did. Having his feelings validated helped him move forward.

Tiu spoke about how “it’s tough being human,” and discussed how his passion for mental health advocacy led him to become a member of the KPU Peer Support team for two years. If he had not gone through the experience of battling mental illness, he believes that he wouldn’t be making music today.

“It’s like everybody’s on their own path … but at the same time, we are a university and I feel like we should, together, feel like we are one as well,” says Tiu. “We all have different stories and paths, but I think we can relate to feeling lost and battling our own demons.”

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