By Zachary Flynn
NAITSA is opening a Peer Support Centre later this month to supplement on-campus mental health resources –making NAIT the last major post-secondary institution in Edmonton to get a peer support program.
The centre will be in room J209B and will be staffed by NAIT students who are trained to listen to students and deal with people in crisis. The service is entirely confidential and gives students the opportunity to share their stories anonymously.
The NAIT students, acting as peer supporters, will work with students to develop coping skills and strategies, and provide further resources to students.
The centre is expected to be open three hours a day, Monday through Friday. It is likely to be open in the morning before classes, during lunch hour, and before evening classes. Schedules and hours are still in development.
Currently, the program employs 10 NAIT students – nine peer supporters and one co-ordinator.
Willow Shelley, NAITSA’s VP of Student Services, says she’s excited to see this program start up and is looking forward to providing students with a space to go if they need someone to talk with.
“I think that it’s crucial that we have a peer support program at NAIT,” said Shelley.
“I think it’s going to provide a great support to a lot of our students that are not able to talk to someone that would be
able to understand their situation.”
What makes NAIT’s program stand out from similar support groups is their commitment to supporting their staff.
“We really are aware of the stress that peer supporters could be going through, and we want to provide as much support to them as possible,” said Shelley.
The peer supporter co-ordinator will have regular check-ins with their staff to make sure that they are maintaining positive mental health. Peer supporters
are also required to attend regular counselling through NAIT and partake in open dialogue with other peer supporters during regularly-scheduled meetings.
Peer support staff undergo intensive training over the course of two weekends. The training focuses on supportive listening, crisis management, and
The service acts as a completely confidential way for students to access peer support.
Peer supporters are not licensed counsellors or therapists and they are not trained in giving advice. They are there to listen to students and work with them to help students develop plans and solutions on their own through reflective practices.
“We give them the skills, but they create their own action plan,” said Shelley.
Students are not able to book meetings with Peer Supporters. If a student would like regular appointments with a professional, they are recommended to
see NAIT’s Counselling Centre.
“We’re not trained counsellors, I like to say we’re trained listeners,” said a peer supporter.
At the Peer Support Centre, both the students and the supporters will remain anonymous. Regardless, the peer supporters will always be willing to listen
to anyone who comes to the centre.
“We’re peers, we’re in the same place as you are. We’re a fellow student,” said a Peer Supporter. “You could come sit with someone and spill your guts and know it’s not leaving that room.”
NAITSA hopes that the anonymity will make students feel more comfortable opening up to the peer supporters.
“The whole idea of it is really for students to feel comfortable, in a safe space, and that they’re talking to a peer and not a counsellor,” said Shelley.
Shelley hopes to see the program expand to the size of other established programs in the city, but it relies on student demand. If the space is used and they need more peer supporters, NAITSA will look at hiring another round of staff.