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College Beat: Making time for mental health at Red Deer College

Red Deer Advocate - 1/25/2020

On Wednesday, Red Deer College will be involved in an important, symbolic event: we will host a flag raising as part of the national Bell Let's Talk initiative.

There are 227 post-secondary institutions across Canada that will be part of the annual Bell Let's Talk campaign, but RDC is one of only 13 that were selected to participate in the flag raising.

We're honoured to be part of celebrating and acknowledging the importance of mental health through this event.

When it comes to supporting students, it is so evident that success at the post-secondary level is not just about academics. Students are juggling many life responsibilities, such as their families, community responsibilities, finances and many other contributing factors that impact their success.

Plus, many students in post secondary are within the age range —late teens to early 20s — when mental health conditions are frequently diagnosed for the first time.

Considering all of these factors, plus the increasing recognition of the importance of mental health across society at large, it makes sense that post-secondary institutions are devoting more time and energy to removing the stigma and helping to support students.

RDC has just wrapped up a big week dedicated to mental health awareness. Our annual, week-long Make Some Time campaign encompassed more than 15 activities and events designed to raise awareness, promote conversations and encourage healthy living.

Make Some Time was started by RDC athletics three years ago as a way to connect with as many students on campus as possible. It is now led by a committee of representatives from across the college, and it's an innovative model, because we're bringing together a wide range of students, faculty and staff to promote and enhance mental health awareness and initiatives.

The culmination of the week was Make Some Noise for Mental Health, a campaign led by the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.

The event was celebrated at the Kings and Queens volleyball games and Kings hockey game on Friday, and the presenting sponsor, RBC, donated $1,000 to student mental health initiatives at the college.

We've chosen to use this money to present a student financial literacy workshop in February, and students from across RDC are welcome to attend.

Finances are one of the contributors to mental health, as I mentioned earlier, and struggling financially can put a lot of stress on students.

The financial literacy workshop will help students to have a better understanding of how to budget and plan, which will help to reduce their stress.

Like many campaigns supporting mental health, RDC's Make Some Time and the athletic conference's Make Some Noise started with a handful of people who wanted to make a difference, and they have grown from there.

This is another way that we're working to normalize discussions about mental health and to make people aware of what they can do and how they can access help.

But providing supports isn't just about the well-known campaigns or initiatives. It's also about year-round opportunities and connections.

At RDC, there are many workshops, activities and events offered for students, faculty and staff. And if we don't have the necessary resources here, we have strong partnerships with community organizations to provide connections and referrals to help students.

In addition to the supports we provide for local students, as we look to our future serving an increasing number of international students, we're mindful that these students will have new and unique needs.

The stresses they experience may include feelings of isolation, culture shock, academic pressures and language barriers. We will ensure that we have the appropriate resources in place to serve these students, now and in the future.

Throughout my administrative career, I have seen a variety of approaches that post-secondary institutions take towards supporting student mental health, and I have led programs designed to provide wrap-around services for students.

These experiences have demonstrated to me that we need to continue providing these essential services and doing all that we can to support students. It's our responsibility, and it's a responsibility that I take very seriously.

Peter Nunoda is Red Deer College's president.