UNB to be part of ‘peer support’ mental health pilot program

UNB student Niko Coady will be helping the CMHA develop training for peer support workers. Silas Brown / Global News

The University of New Brunswick is one of five university campuses across the country taking part in a pilot project that will train 100 students as peer support workers.

The hourly paid positions will help connect fellow students with existing mental health resources.

“Peer supporters will be embedded in a continuum of care,” said Bonnie Lipton-Bos, the national manager of the program for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

“So they will be working alongside counsellors, they’ll be working alongside health promoters, they’ll be working alongside other service providers on campus and they’re one part of a whole and they bring a different skill set and a unique perspective to supporting students.”

Read more: Staff stretched thin as report says half of UNB students in counselling deal with suicidal thoughts

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The program is being funded with $2 million from the federal government, which will go towards the creation of the training program by the CMHA, as well as the costs of training and paying the peer support workers.

The other participating universities are:

  • University of Prince Edward Island
  • Trent University
  • Medicine Hat University
  • University of British Columbia

How many positions will go to each school has yet to be decided.

“We’re actually going to be mobilizing the campuses to determine what’s the right fit for their campus,” Lipton-Bas said.

“So that might mean 20 positions for UNB, that might mean 10, that might mean 30.”

The program aims to recruit peer support workers who have lived experience dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues. Lipton-Bas said support for applicants is an essential part of the program.

Watch: Improvements to N.B. mental health resources coming too slowly

“The students who will be recruited, hired, trained and paid for this work will be vetted to make sure that they’re in a place in their recovery where they feel well and able to take on this work,” she said.

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“But we also have built into the program wellness supports for the peer supporters and it’s built into the training.”

UNB student Niko Coady will be helping the CMHA develop the training program. While she won’t be participating as a peer support worker — she graduates this year — she hopes the program will have a real impact on the student body, particularly for marginalized students who may have trouble accessing supports.

“I feel passionate about this project because I think it will have a major impact mostly on incoming students and marginalized students who might not have those immediate relationships when they arrive at UNB,” she said.

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