April 13, 2023

Giving Day 2023: 6 mental health initiatives that make a difference at UCalgary

Give today to support mental health programs for students, faculty, and staff
School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Acts of Kindness campfire event
School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Acts of Kindness campfire event. Kelly Hofer, for the University of Calgary

Approximately one in five people experience a mental illness in a given year, and University of Calgary students, faculty and staff are no different. It’s why UCalgary established the Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS), which provides a framework for policies and initiatives that support the mental health and well-being of the campus community.

With Giving Day now on at UCalgary, it’s the perfect time to support the Campus Mental Health Impact Fund with a gift that could have double the impact. All eligible Giving Day donations made between April 1 to 27 will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2,500 per gift — but only while matching funds last.

Here are just a few examples of the initiatives and events supported by the CMHS — all of which donors can support this Giving Day with a gift to the CHMS Impact Fund:

Suicide awareness and education

The Reach Out program provides suicide intervention training and workshops that focus on helping people recognize the signs of suicidal thoughts.

“There are key things they can do as humans who know what it’s like to go through difficult times and walk alongside them in terms of figuring out next steps,” says community training co-ordinator Mandy McCaughley. The program also builds soft skills, such as active listening and validation, helping participants feel more confident when having difficult conversations. “It can take the pressure off ourselves to have the perfect response.”

McCaughley says that, thanks to funding from the Students’ Union Quality Money program, she has been able to double enrolment and some of the programming “almost always [hits] capacity … it’s been really nice to be able to meet that need.”

UCalgary Recovery Community 

The UCalgary Recovery Community program (UCRC) was created for those seeking or interested in recovery and wanting a safe space to work on reducing the stigma surrounding addictions.

“Universities are recovery-threatening environments, just based on their whole party culture,” says Chelsie Graham, BSW’22, project co-ordinator, Recovery on Campus Alberta. 

The UCRC exists to change the narrative and educate others that students, staff and academics are under an immense amount of stress and to provide them with a safe place to connect with others who are or want to be in recovery.

“It's logical that they might be struggling with something, and we need to give them a space to be a part of a community and find support,” Graham says.

Thanks to the program, many campus community members have come forward to share their stories. “As staff and faculty, we need to be included in the narrative because we can’t even consider helping our students until we ourselves are supported,” she says.

Embedded Certificate in Mental Wellbeing and Resilience

The Embedded Certificate in Mental Wellbeing and Resilience is an experiential learning program for undergraduate students. Housed in the Faculty of Arts, but available for all undergraduate students, the program allows students to develop coping and resiliency skills so they can better face adversity, support their peers and, ultimately, thrive. The certificate is the first in Canada to teach coping and resiliency skills.

Afsah Dawood, BSc’22, says the program helped prepare her for graduate school. “The practical nature of the knowledge and experience I gained from this certificate informed not only my future interests, but directly aided my subsequent academic achievements,” she says. 

Since the program started, 48 UCalgary students have graduated from the certificate, and 119 are currently enrolled. 

Mindfulness podcast

Now in its second season, UCalgary’s Mindfulness podcast focuses on the importance of meditation in helping deal with the stress of everyday life, offering up a space for listeners to repose and reflect.

Co-host Justin Burkett, BN’14, MN’22, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing, uses an approach that allows listeners to open up at their own pace. Burkett co-hosts with Julia Imanoff, MN’16, a research assistant and doctoral candidate with Nursing.

For Burkett, the podcast has been enormously rewarding, allowing him to connect with other UCalgary personalities and co-create something of value for the community. 

The experience, he says, also allowed him to reflect on his own growth. “Through co-designing the podcast, I was able to refine my own teaching and learning strategies, from curriculum design to leadership.” 

CMHS awareness campaign

The CMHS awareness campaign provides an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to share their mental health journeys.

“I was able to share my story and hopefully reach others who are experiencing similar challenges,” says UCalgary Students’ Union Vice-President Academic, and President-Elect, Shaziah Jinnah Morsette. “Having the space to be open and authentic about my undergraduate journey was empowering, especially as I carve my own path to leadership.”

Therapy is one of the ways Morsette was able to identify the reasons she was struggling and come to terms with an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. Finding safe spaces to reach out allowed Morsette to find clarity and support, and learn to accept herself.

School of Creative and Performing Arts’ Acts of Kindness concert 

This past January, the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) organized a free Acts of Kindness concert in partnership with the CMHS, featuring dance, drama and music in celebration of kindness, connection and mental health awareness. 

The event also included wellness booths, creating a unique setting for individuals to connect with the event’s key message: offering kindness to someone else can be as healing as receiving it.

“It can be difficult to talk about mental health, but those conversations can get easier when we gather in a space together to experience beauty, empathy and human connection through performance,” says Dr. Laura Hynes, DMA, associate professor of music.

Supporting mental health programs on Giving Day

For CMHS Director Andrew Szeto, PhD, Giving Day is an occasion to share the achievements so many people across campus have made in contributing to a community of caring. “With a broad network across campus, we’ve been able to contribute collectively to reducing the stigma that still exists around mental illnesses, contribute to the development of relevant resources and initiatives, and create an environment that supports our well-being.” 

In addition to the initiatives and programs highlighted, the CMHS has contributed to many other mental health-related activities such as the Summer Wellness Series, Grief and Loss workshops, and the two-week-long well-being expo UFlourish. Funds from last Giving Day were used to contribute study aids to yearly de-stress kits put together by the Students’ Union and distributed to students during exam time.

Learn more or make a tax-deductible donation to the Campus Mental Health Impact Fund on Giving Day.

UCalgary Giving Day is April 27. Whether you support student awards, critical research or any one of UCalgary’s innovative funds, your gift will help change lives and shape the future. All eligible gifts made from April 1-27 will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $2,500 per gift — but only while matching funds last. Make your gift today at ucalgary.ca/givingday.

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