By Dave Stewart, The Guardian
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Talking about mental health issues got a big boost at UPEI on Wednesday.
The university received a $25,000 Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund grant to help it expand its Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program.
The money will allow two UPEI student affairs employees to be professionally trained as instructors in ASIST. Once trained, these instructors will offer the two-day ASIST program free of charge to students, faculty and staff at UPEI, beginning with high-priority groups such as residence life co-ordinators, student affairs staff and other employees who may be the first point of contact for students in a crisis.
Treena Smith, director of student affairs, said the money will come in handy.
“(It will teach people) how to intervene when somebody is having a lot of difficulty and having some suicidal thoughts,’’ Smith told The Guardian following a press conference in Charlottetown Wednesday.
“It’s essentially a suicide first-aid program. It continues the conversation around mental health, which is really the key point to this.’’
Smith said it will give people tangible skills in order to help their colleagues, to help each other as students, for staff and faculty to help students, but also for faculty and staff to help each other.
Keith Lawlor, one of the two registered ASIST trainers, said he’s excited to be part of the program.
“We’re excited to get the opportunity,’’ Lawlor said. “Now, to bring it to the UPEI campus, it’s something that I really think will benefit our staff, faculty and students.’’
When asked why it’s important to talk about mental health issues, Lawlor said it’s a no-brainer.
“It’s something that everybody deals with so it’s important to continue to destigmatize it and continue the conversation.’’
Paul Montgomery, senior sales with Bell Aliant, called mental health one of society’s biggest issues.
“Mark your calendars for Jan. 31,’’ Montgomery said, referring to Bell Let’s Talk Day. “Together, we can eradicate the stigma of mental health awareness. We commend the university for identifying suicide prevention as a priority.’’
UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz said the grant will have a significant impact on the university’s ability to encourage an open dialogue across campus about student mental health.
“We are committed to helping all of our faculty, staff and students,’’ Abd-El-Aziz said. “It’s important that all of us help one another. It will take all of us to solve some of the mental health issues we face.’’
Smith said a two-day workshop to train UPEI staff, faculity and students on how to intervene will be held at the end of the month.
There will also be a host of activities around Bell Let’s Talk Day at the university, including booths, information sessions, food, basketball and hockey games.
“They’re giving free tickets to all students, staff and faculty and, at the games, we will be promoting mental health and mental wellness,’’ said Smith.