Eliminating the Stigma Around Mental Health: Meet Angelina Tortola

As the saying goes, home is where the heart is. This sentiment rings true for CBU student, Angelina Tortola. Angelina always knew she wanted to remain close to home when choosing a post-secondary institution, but what made her decision clear was meeting just a few special people at CBU. “I was drawn to CBU through my encounters with the faculty, as that’s what really differed from my encounters with other universities,” says Angelina. “The faculty at CBU are personable and want you to succeed. They didn’t make me feel like I would just be a number in their class.”

Currently studying in the Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies Program, Angelina became a Peer Mental Health Coordinator with the Nancy Dingwall Health and Counselling Centre in 2023. She was originally drawn to the role because of her interest in the field of social work, and when the opportunity arose in the form of a co-op placement, she couldn’t pass it up. 

A memory that will forever stick with Angelina formed just this past Fall when the mental health crisis of an immediate family member resulted in her having to miss almost two weeks of class. “What made this difficult time more manageable was how understanding and supportive each of my professors were,” says Angelina. “Reading through their emails, I was overwhelmed by the love and support I received from each of them.” This experience gave Angelina even more drive to offer mental health support through her role. 

Angelina feels there are a number of ways she and other Peer Mental Health Coordinators can be beneficial for students, including helping to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues by giving students the opportunity to talk to someone who is going through similar academic and social experiences. She feels this relatability and understanding will allow students to open up more. 

Another way Peer Mental Health Coordinators support students is through empowerment. “The coordinator gains a sense of purpose and fulfillment from helping others, while the student receiving support may feel more empowered knowing that someone their age has overcome similar challenges,” says Angelina. She cites the opportunity for community-building as another benefit to the role, as students can gain comfort in knowing others around them are struggling, seeking help and helping others. 

Angelina’s experiences at CBU and her passion for helping others make her the perfect fit for this role. “As a Peer Mental Health Coordinator, I am a valuable resource for other students, and I recognize the value of empathy, compassion and confidentiality,” says Angelina. “Creating a safe and trustworthy environment where people feel comfortable opening up and sharing their concerns is a priority for me. I want to help provide students with the support and resources they need to overcome their challenges.”

CBU takes both the mental and physical health of its students very seriously, and that’s why events like Bell Let’s Talk Day are celebrated openly throughout campus. “CBU’s participation in Bell Let’s Talk Day and other mental health initiatives is greatly appreciated,” says Angelina. “This participation allows our campus and community to continue to reduce stigma and connect students with the support they need.”

Angelina encourages struggling students to connect with one of the Peer Mental Health Coordinators, and to speak freely in doing so. “Say whatever is on your mind, we are here to listen and direct you to resources,” she says. “We do not judge and we always honour confidentiality.”

Peer Mental Health Coordinators are just one of the numerous mental health resources available to students at CBU. The Nancy Dingwall Health and Counselling Centre offers free and confidential counseling services, among other resources. For students who may not be ready for in-person counseling, online resources such as Togetherall and HealthymindsNS can be accessed at all times and are also confidential.

Angelina wants all students and employees to know if they are struggling, they are not alone.  “We want to hear your story,” she says. “Although reaching out can be intimidating, the reward is worth it.” For more information on mental health services at CBU, visit cbu.ca/mental-health