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Money for mental health

Young man experiencing stress

The provincial government announced last week that NAIT is being allocated $495,000 annually for the next three years to enhance their mental health initiatives. In preparation for the application NAIT sent last Friday, a mental health focus group commenced Sept. 12 at the Dow Theatre gauging student feedback on the areas NAIT’s mental health strategies were lacking. NAIT used that feedback to create an effective application which stipulated what initiatives they’re going to use that money for.

Clint Galloway, director for Student WellBeing and Community, says the money has some strings attached, but nothing you wouldn’t expect from a specific grant like this one.

“It has to be directed toward mental health initiatives towards students on campus. The things we can’t spend it on is stuff not related to the mental health funding grants.”

The focus group was open to students with the purpose of gauging feedback about where NAIT’s mental health facilities and programs are lacking. While the meeting was sparsely attended, many concerns still came to fruition as NAIT poured over more than 3,000 responses from student surveys done last school year.

One of the main concerns is what Galloway and NAITSA executive Callie-Rae Barker call the “gaps in communication” between students and counselling services. Many students aren’t aware of counselling services or are reluctant to be the first to speak up. In the future, counsellors could make semesterly trips to classrooms as a soft introduction to students, in hopes of making students feel less reluctant and more willing to book an appointment if they need one.

Another chief issue is getting trades programs on board. In Canada, trades such as carpenters, electricians, and construction have the second highest suicide rate per profession behind agriculture. Combine that with the stress of being a student, NAIT wants to create a better environment for their trades students.

Both NAIT and NAITSA agree the Mental Health First Aid program is successful, but NAIT is exploring options to streamline the process. The program started in 2014 and trains students and staff to recognize and understand symptoms of mental health problems. NAIT is interested in shortening the program’s length after feedback the two-day weekend – which the course spans – is difficult for students to schedule for. NAIT could explore expanding to an online program which could be done over the course of a couple of weeks allowing students who missed the program the chance to do it. Another suggestion was giving transcript recognition for completing the Mental Health First Aid program, but that remains unlikely.

Also discussed was a well-being checklist reminding students about self-care and wellness, free fitness classes, a petting zoo, and digital outlets through the new NAIT app.

Clint Galloway says the conversations had from the focus group and the ones he’s been a part of already reflect many of these points. Once the application comes back, they can begin the work.

“In eight weeks we should know and then we can spend money on what we’ve requested to spend it on,” Galloway said.

The application process breaks down to two phases.

– Phase one is from Aug. 1 2017 to March 31, 2019 and is a $825,000 grant.
– Phase two is from April 1 2019-March 31 2020 at the remainder sum of $660,000.

NAIT will have to reapply before April 2019 to receive their allocated amount
for Phase two. Afterwards, applications become yearly at undetermined amounts.

NAIT was allocated the second highest amount among post-secondary schools that the government announced last week. The University of Alberta was allocated the most at $1 million over the course of three years.

– Michael Menzies, Senior Editor

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