The more, the better

Originally posted: March 24, 2021

A year in to the global pandemic, it is tough to speak in terms of silver linings. However, one topic that seems to have received more attention than ever before is mental health, an important development given its pervasiveness predates COVID-19.

To help deepen this conversation, MITT continues providing staff and students resources and educational opportunities that empower them and help eliminate stigmas about mental health.

One such effort began in November 2020, when MITT became the first post-secondary institution in Manitoba to offer students the More Feet on the Ground training—an online, student professional development program that teaches participants how to support classmates and peers who may be facing mental health challenges.

During spring break (on March 29 and March 31) More Feet on the Ground is once again being offered to MITT students at no charge as a supplement to their technical training. Seats are limited so if you are interested in participating, please register by Friday, March 26. 

The program, developed by the Council of Ontario Universities, Brock University, as well as the provincially funded Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, consists of an online course and live breakout/group discussions and teaches students how to:

  • RECOGNIZE indicators that someone may be experiencing mental health concerns;
  • RESPOND appropriately to someone who needs support, based on the indicators present and your relationship with them;
  • REFER someone to mental health supports and services in an appropriate way; and
  • Describes best practices for reflecting after interacting with someone who may be upset or distressed.

To date, 33 MITT students have taken the live training while 25 have completed the live training and the online course required to earn the certificate of completion.

According to Elena Anciro, student life coordinator, the training is helpful for students in their day-to-day lives and it’s equipping them with a valuable set of skills they can bring to the workplace after graduation.

“Mental health is something our advisors and our counsellor were helping students work through before the pandemic arrived,” says Anciro. “What I like about the More Feet on the Ground training is how it complements our work and also give students the knowledge and confidence they need to actively manage mental health issues—whether they are their own or those of a classmate or friend. That’s a skill they can take with them for life.”

We connected with three past participants to get their perspectives on the experience; here are their stories.

 

Xin Xiao—current student, Early Childhood Education Diploma

What made you want to take the training?
I always want to explore in mental health challenges and solutions because of my own experience. Some of my close friends and I had mental health struggles before. I grew up in China and most teenagers there need to go through “Gaokao,” a high-pressured and overly competitive National College Entrance Examination. Poor students in China need to study 14 hours a day, six days a week for at least three years to pass that exam. Mental health issues are just natural products of that crazy environment. So many of us have problems eating, falling asleep or concentrating. Worse problems including severe socially withdraw, self-harm, or even suicide. I used to have a classmate who claimed she lost control of her own body in the middle of a class. She felt hard to breathe and couldn’t move or talk, all she could see was black. Those symptoms would last for several minutes then she would be fine. But she described those experiences as “almost dying.” Many years later, I know what she had might be [having]: panic attacks. But we had no clue why it happened and how to deal with it back then. If we could have mental health training courses at that time, a lot of people might be helped, or even saved.

Did you find it helpful?
I think this training is helpful, especially because it can raise the awareness of mental health challenges. I know some people are still avoiding the topic of mental health or wrongly assumed that “only weak people have mental health issues” even though the rate of individuals reporting mental health symptoms have increased significantly over the past several decades. I find trainings like More Feet on the Ground helpful because it can help people know that it’s okay to have mental health struggles, it’s okay to talk about them, and it’s ok to ask for help. Everyone might go through some hard times in our long, long life and need emotional support, therapies, or even medicine; just like everyone gets physically sick and needs to see doctors. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., they all have signs that can help us recognize them, similar as we can recognize signs of a common cold or flu. If I noticed a classmate suddenly lost interests in things he or she used to enjoy and seems lacking of self-care and motivation, I will talk to them and see if they need further help from professionals.

Did the training give you more confidence to know what to do in a situation where a classmate or friend may appear to be having a mental health challenge?
Yes, I know more of what to do compared to before taking the course. I know the goal of this course is not to train us to diagnose others but to see things with more thoughtful eyes. I know to pay attention to people’s sudden changes such as changes in appetite and weight, difficulties in sleeping, concentration, or communication, unusually quiet or lacking of motivation/interests, etc. I know I can recommend trusted resources such as the team in MITT, the official website of More Feet on the Ground or Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, etc.

Would you recommend the training to other students?
I will definitely recommend the training to my friends. Like I mentioned before, it’s important to promote the basic knowledge about mental health issues and how to find support resources. Actually, I think schools nowadays should include basic mental health awareness courses into compulsory courses. But that is another problem and I am not in the place to decide.

 

 

Harwinder Kaur—current student, Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Resources Learning and Development

What made you want to take the training?
There are two reasons for this: Firstly, I have dealt with homesickness and mental stress when I moved from India to Canada as an international student. Secondly, mental health awareness has become more important in this pandemic situation of COVID-19 as work and studies both have shifted to home. I wanted to take this training so that I am aware of mental health and helping others who are going through this.

Did you find it helpful?
This training has been very helpful. It has helped me to understand the mental health issue, how to recognize the signs if anyone is facing any type of mental stress or other mental issue. It has also [helped me] develop a sense of understanding and awareness of helping people emotionally and mentally.

Have you had an opportunity to use your training yet to help a classmate or friend?
Yes, I had an opportunity to deal with my friend who was facing a mental health issue. She has recently moved from India to Canada and just completed her quarantine. She was so stressed and feeling lonely. I helped her out in this situation and she is confident to share her mental situation with me now.

 

 

Patience Okolo—current student, Post-Graduate Diploma in Human Resources Learning and Development

What made you want to take the training?
When I heard about it, [I chose to participate] so I could understand others and myself and learn about things that would be ordinarily overlooked.

Did you find it helpful?
It was very helpful. Hearing other students’ experiences gave me insights into the day-to-day goings on of other people.

Did the training give you more confidence to know what to do in a situation where a classmate or friend may appear to be having a mental health challenge?
Most definitely. I am confident that when new things come about, I have a better ways to handle things. It’s been very, very helpful, even with my kids. Now, I can recognize things that wouldn’t raise red flags [before]. I am more attentive and I have the skills to really observe, recognize, and respond appropriately.

Have you had an opportunity to use your training yet to help a classmate or friend?  
My children, my friends, and my classmates. It has put me in a better position to help and when I feel there is a need to seek assistance, they gave us information to help refer others to get the help they need.

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