Paula Faragher and Sarah Lefebure, co-creators of the Flourish program at Okanagan College Penticton, welcome students to the first workshop last week. (Submitted photo)

College makes mental health a part of campus life

New project teaches positive mental health skills

A new wellness pilot project is underway at Okanagan College’s Penticton campus and has set out to help students thrive in their studies and personal lives by teaching skills and tools to manage and promote positive mental health.

“Flourish is a series of workshops held on campus that model and teach students different ways of managing stress, anxiety and depression so that when they experience those overwhelming feelings they have a well-rounded toolbox of healthy ways to regulate them,” said Sarah Lefebure, a counsellor at Okanagan College and co-creator of the Flourish program.

The workshop series offers activities, resources and support to help students combat stress. Additionally, guest speakers will help open up the conversation about mental health and work to break down stigmas of mental illness and the challenges students encounter in daily life.

“This project was developed very organically,” said Paula Faragher, accessibility services co-ordinator and co-creator of the project. “Sarah and I recognized gaps in services in terms of working with students who were experiencing really high levels of stress and anxiety while going to school.”

The project is based on a model of mental wellbeing that suggests everyone experiences times where they are flourishing, languishing or somewhere in between. Mental health care is not only for those diagnosed with a mental illness, everyone can benefit.

“We always believed that healthy campuses equaled healthy minds but it wasn’t until we saw statistics from a campus-wide mental health survey that Flourish really grew into the project it is,” said Faragher.

Last winter, Human Kinetics Professor Wendy Wheeler and her class conducted a mental health survey at the Penticton campus and found that in the past 12 months, 49 per cent of students felt so depressed it was difficult for them to function. About 57 per cent felt overwhelming anxiety and 74 per cent felt very sad.

“As a counsellor, our goal is to create and maintain a positive climate for students to succeed, both academically and in their personal lives, and a major part of doing that is promoting positive mental health,” said Lefebure.

Flourish was created and received full support from the college, which awarded the project an Innovation Fund grant, an internal grant for innovative new programs and initiatives.

“We are committed to expanding awareness of mental health issues and providing resources for those students in need of wellness supports,” said Charlotte Kushner, vice-president for students.

“The link between student wellness and academic success is well documented and the most recent studies suggest there is a need to improve mental health supports for post-secondary students who are facing an increasingly complex world.”

The Flourish program is open to all Okanagan College students. For more information, including workshop dates, visit www.okanagan.bc.ca/flourish.

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