Promoting healthy minds

April 12, 2016

Psychiatric nursing students help their peers leading up to exams

There was definitely a buzz in the air on the second-last day of classes, but the euphoria that comes with the end of lectures can be quickly tempered by the reality of final exams.

That’s why first-year Psychiatric Nursing Diploma students were out in full force for the seventh year running, encouraging students, faculty and staff in the hallways and cafeteria of Building 6 to join them and learn a bit about how self-care can make a difference for students.

“This is all the students’ initiative,” explains Melissa Watkins, assistant professor. “We ask them to choose a topic to look at early in the semester—something that promotes good health and mental health wellbeing for students, like stress management, relaxation techniques, and sleep—and they work in groups to put together teaching and learning information on those topics.”

It’s a lot of work, but the students aren’t assessed on these projects or assigned a grade. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to mind one bit.

“At first, they wonder what they’re going to get out of an experience like this, but when they start seeing the bigger picture and what they get back from it, they don’t want to stop,” says Melissa. “It’s really important to give them a foundation and understanding of wellness and self-care. When they graduate, they will take this with them.”

IMAGE_STORY_Psychiatric_Nurs2That’s how Brooke Stenson feels. She and three fellow students created a booth on relaxation, complete with massage chairs, therapy dogs, hand massages, deep-breathing techniques and a brainstorming board on relaxation.

“Even though this wasn’t for marks—not everything we do needs to be—we all wanted to shine and do our best,” she says. “Exams are so stressful and relaxation is such an important thing for students. Thinking of ways to make the information we were finding attractive to other students was a great challenge and a good way of putting what we learned into perspective.”

In addition to offering strategies and suggestions for self-care and wellness, the students were also focusing on sharing positive messages about mental health.

“People often don’t understand that anxiety and depression are mental illnesses just as much as a disease like schizophrenia,” says Asia Wasaznik, whose group compiled an impressive list of resources available both on and off campus—everything from counselling and financial aid to help lines and clubs.

“It’s important that people realize that there are places to go when they need help,” she says. “Many of the people we talked to were shocked to learn that more than half the people in the room were likely to have some form of mental illness, and that most people will experience mental illness to some degree at some point in their lives.”

The event was about helping other students, but Asia says she also took a lot away from the experience.

“I find myself paying more attention to my own mental health,” she says. “If you’re aware, then it’s easier and comforting to know that it’s okay to feel a little down or anxious, and that everyone goes through that sometimes, but also how important it is to get help when you need it.”

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