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Here to help

UPEI’s support services encourage students to maintain academic focus and personal health

by Ty Stapleton

From personal health and wellness services, to non-academic activities to boost students’ social enjoyment, to academic support and active course-related help centres, UPEI students should know there’s always someone to talk to and something to do.

The Health Centre, located in UPEI’s W.A. Murphy Student Centre, partners with community health organizations to provide comprehensive health services for students. Students can visit the Health Centre’s physicians and nurses for assessments and treatment of illnesses and injuries; prescriptions; immunizations and injections; women’s and men’s health counselling; sexual health counselling including pregnancy and STI testing and education; and referrals to community health organizations and services.

In addition to a wide assortment of medical services for students, the Student Affairs department is dedicated to helping students maintain their personal health and academic success. Counsellor James Reddin says students face a variety of experiences and emotions that make it difficult to stay confident and on track.

“A fair number of students come in with concerns about how their relationships (romantic, friendships, workplace, classroom, and family) are impacting their lives,” he says. “A lot of students fall into unhealthy lifestyle patterns [including] not enough sleep, substance misuse, poor diet, poor stress coping skills, and not enough exercise. Not only do these poor patterns have what we'd traditionally think of as physical impacts, but also emotional and cognitive ones. It can be hard to identify or change those patterns alone, and connecting with a counsellor can help.”

three people talking in a boardroom
UPEI Counsellor James Reddin leads mental health first aid sessions for students, faculty, and staff.

Student Affairs staff also lead training sessions in mental health first aid and suicide intervention. Students, faculty, and staff use real-life stories shared during the 12-hour mental health first aid course to learn how to intervene or support students who may be experiencing difficulty or may be in crisis. ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, is a two-day interactive workshop in suicide first aid, teaching participants to recognize when someone may have thoughts of suicide and work with them to create a plan that will support their immediate safety.

Academic supports include accommodations and services for students with disabilities, access to writing tutors in the UPEI Writing Centre, a tutoring program led by student mentors for many courses in all faculties, and workshops available to all students through the Gateway Program.

“The reality of the student experience is one of competing priorities,” said Keith Lawlor, the program’s co-ordinator. “We often think of university in an academic context only, when the reality is that our students are facing many other things that command their attention at this phase of life. The Gateway Program recognizes that both our new and returning students have multiple priorities, and helps students balance those priorities while giving their academic work the attention it needs. ”

The Gateway Program offers peer mentoring for students, who are paired with an upper-year student mentor who will meet with them on-campus for approximately one hour a week. The goal of the mentor is to work with each student to determine what responsibilities they have coming up, and to make a plan to accomplish and complete these tasks as effectively as possible. The program also holds hour-long workshops throughout the year in topics such as time management and organization; motivation and goal-setting; reading, studying, and note-taking; learning styles; and, preparing and planning for exams.

The Chaplaincy Centre at UPEI provides a location for students to meet, eat, socialize, pray, and hold religious services. Campus Minister Sr. Susan Kidd provides spiritual accompaniment and pastoral counselling, and welcomes opportunities for worship of all faiths. The Chaplaincy Centre also houses the Campus Food Bank for students experiencing food insecurity.

Additional support services are available to Indigenous students through UPEI’s Mawi’omi Centre. As part of the UPEI Student Affairs support team, the Centre offers an open, welcoming, safe space for students to share their concerns.

“We offer academic, personal, and social supports,” says Sherri Russell, the Centre’s co-ordinator. “We also offer cultural and spiritual support with the addition of our Elder in Residence [Elder Judy Clark]. Judy is a wonderful addition to our team. She is a listening ear and a calm voice.”

Students can contact Student Affairs by email message, telephone call, or simply drop into their offices to access all support services.

“Our staff is really good at protecting students privacy, so they don't ask a lot of prying questions about what's wrong,” Reddin says.

“There is no such thing as a problem too small or a problem too big,” he says. “While we value the chance to help someone early in their journey where little changes can make a big difference, we also appreciate that it can be tough to access help and sometimes it takes a crisis to motivate change.”

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A second chance and determination helped UPEI student Caleb MacKinnon make the most of his opportunity after registering in the Gateway program. Now, he's successfully completing university.
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