By: Christopher Mines

Disabilities councillor Allison West Armstrong is promoting online campaign Start the Conversation to raise awareness for mental health within Algonquin.

SA President David Corson knows firsthand about mental illness.

Corson, 48, served in the military for over two years. He is a widower and has a 20-year-old daughter. One of his first experiences with depression occurred as a young Mohawk College student.
“I went to Mohawk when I was probably at my weakest,” said Corson. “I understand depression in the sense of what it is like to have it.” Corson at times did not know where to turn when he or others needed help.

Corson shared his personal experiences in discussing the need for enhanced mental health services at Algonquin.

He repeatedly took students to health services because he did not know where else to go. “A student in my class committed suicide,” said Corson. “I have tried to commit suicide.”

In October, Algonquin launched two separate websites: ICopeU is an online resource for students and Starting the Conversation is an online resource for faculty. Both websites are part of a growing support network to meet the needs of students and faculty, both part-time and full-time.

There are over 450 full-time and 1,200 part-time professors said Disabilities Counsellor Allison West Armstrong. Faculty at night have fewer resources at their disposal and some students do not want face-to-face help.

Plans for ICopeU started over 18 months ago in a conversation between Disabilities Counsellor Allison West Armstrong and David Corson. Armstrong said both students and faculty are more open in making “Mental health part of the conversation.”

Both websites offer preventive information to help students and faculty see the signs of stress. The most common are sleeping and eating disorders said Manager of Counselling Services Jeff Agate. People need to reach out to one another when they see a “Significant change in socialization patterns,” said Agate.

Nearly 900 users accessed ICopeU within the first month and it since grown to over 1,500 users said Agate. Students and faculty need to be proactive and “Make mental health part of the conversation,” said Armstrong.

Algonquin is one of three post-secondary institutions to have its own mental health nurse. Billie Pryer was hired by the college in December. Pryer said the best thing students can do is “Take care of yourself.”

“Even I get stressed and I have just started a new job,” said Pryer.