Not all struggles are easily identifiable from the outside looking in. This was the case for CBU student, Natalia Parsons, who found herself struggling at times during the beginning of her university journey. Natalia, or as many know her, Tal, is now in her sixth year of study at CBU, having completed her Bachelor of Arts and now enrolled in the Bachelor of Social Work program. Tal’s intent was always to attend a university close to home where she could receive support from her family and the added benefit of decreased living costs compared to larger cities. However, the more time she spent at CBU, the more reasons she found to stick around.
Apart from Tal’s high quality education, she says she has been very pleased with the over-abundance of extra curricular opportunities CBU has had to offer. Through these opportunities, Tal has met some of her best friends and gotten the opportunity to work with her mentor, Mental Health Nurse, Lydia McIsaac.
Through Tal’s work with Lydia came the mental health peer support group on campus, which eventually inspired the role of the Peer Mental Health Coordinator. “This role is something Lydia and I created through my hope of starting a peer support group on campus,” says Tal. “The program really took off, our team grew and now we do mental health promotion both on campus and at Cineplex, are present with information at all varsity home games and host our weekly mental health peer support group.”
The peer support group was created not only for the benefit of other students, but for the creators of the group themselves too. “I cannot speak on behalf of all students, but from my experience, peer support has played a pivotal role in my overall well-being throughout my degree,” says Tal. “It was great to have a space where I could talk with other students about unique individual struggles through a collective process of obtaining education.”
University students’ struggles with mental health are not uncommon, as many, especially those who attend university far from home, experience these feelings. “I think university can be stressful and isolating,” Tal says. “But, being able to talk to my peers and having people I could relate to made a huge difference in empowering my education and overall well-being.”
Aside from Tal’s natural inclination to help others and her love for problem-solving, it was actually her role on the CBU Students’ Union’s Student Representative Council that gave her the drive to pursue these various initiatives. After being named the representative of students with permanent disabilities, Tal quickly learned about the large number of CBU students who struggle with mental health issues. “Having this knowledge and taking undergrad courses that focused on the importance of community, I felt like a peer support group might fill a gap in services at CBU,” says Tal. “Throughout my degrees, and as a peer support worker, I gained insight that helped me build on my skills and create better understanding amongst my peers.”
Thankfully for Tal and the students she represented, various employees at the University recognized the value in her aspirations. “The University recognizes the importance of mental health initiatives, and their investment in student-led initiatives has shown me that overall well-being is a priority at CBU,” says Tal.
With Bell Let’s Talk Week happening from January 22-26 at CBU, Tal hopes to use this opportunity as a way to promote the various mental health services available at CBU year round. Her hope is to also emphasize that, although Bell Let’s Talk Day is an incredibly important initiative, mental health struggles should be a part of the conversation daily, not just on this one day or week.
CBU has a whole host of resources available to students, from mental health support to medical practitioners, and academic support services too. As a Peer Mental Health Coordinator herself, Tal’s job is to listen to a student’s needs and direct or connect them with the appropriate resources that will best suit their unique needs.
The mental health peer support group hosts a drop-in session every Thursday from 11:45am to 12:45pm in the David C. Dingwall Student Government Centre in the Student Union Building. The current schedule runs from January 18 to March 28 with a break during the February reading week. It is also important to note that speaking or sharing are NOT required when a student attends, being there only to listen is always an option.
For more information on CBU Health Services visit cbu.ca/mental-health