Unitea and other mental health initiatives launching this fall at Augustana
This fall, Augustana is launching Unitea, a new peer support program to help initiate conversations about mental health and encourage peer listening.
Rachel Burkinshaw-Zelko, a Unitea volunteer and sixth-year kinesiology student, said that Unitea is a type of program that is new to Augustana. “Unitea is a peer support system, but a lot more informal. Students can sign up for a tea date with one of our trained volunteers.”
Unitea allows peers to have conversations, vent, and “get things off their chest” in a safe space. “It’s so important to think about these new initiatives. We really don’t have many resources in Camrose,” said Burkinshaw-Zelko.
Along with the Unitea program, Burkinshaw-Zelko has used her PLLC stretch experience to expand the accessibility of mental health resources on campus.
Burkinshaw-Zelko said that there is still a lot of stigma around mental health issues, and that it is socially constructed.“We need to make it acceptable to access these resources and make these resources easily accessible,” said Burkinshaw-Zelko.
Burkinshaw-Zelko has designed a wallet-sized card with a list of mental and general health resources available at Augustana and in Camrose, along with their contact information. “As a part of my project I’ve found a way to bring all of the resources together and put it in a format that is understandable and accessible,” said Burkinshaw-Zelko.
Burkinshaw-Zelko is hoping to run awareness campaigns and information events to help reduce mental health stigma on campus.
Angela Chytracek, Augustana’s student engagement coordinator and leader of the Unitea program, said that Rachel’s work has been important for mental health initiatives on campus.
“Rachel is working on obtaining specific information and learning about the processes involved with accessing resources. If a student wants to make use of a resource, they will be able to know exactly what to expect from it.” Chytracek said that she is looking forward to Unitea starting this semester. “The point of Unitea is to show that conversations can be powerful.”
However, Chytracek said that Unitea is not meant to provide counselling or professional help. “It’s just meant to connect students so they can have meaningful conversations.”
“Right now we have six volunteers—we don’t really know what the response is going to be. If there is massive demand, we might look at hiring a few more,” said Chytracek. “It’s a pilot program so we’re just playing it by ear.”
All Unitea volunteers are trained in the Community Helpers Program that is led by the University of Alberta’s Community Social Work Team. The program aims to teach students about suicide prevention and awareness, supportive conversations and active listening, as well as cover topics such as sexual assault and sexuality.
“Community Helpers was developed for people who are already in positions where they help people,” said Chytracek.“It is great training and anyone can take it. It can really build your skills to be a better friend.”
Students and staff can attend the two-day Community Helpers Program at Augustana for free this fall from Oct. 1 – 2. Online registration opens on Sept. 13.
For more information, you can visit Unitea’s website at http://community.ualberta.ca/Programs/Unitea.