Ryerson grads and peer support program can relieve university’s counselling wait times

A Ryerson graduate said her non-profit organization’s online peer support and mentorship programs could relieve counselling wait times at Ryerson.

Mhairi Kay started the group, Young Ones, with a friend while studying psychology at Ryerson.

Their group provides treatment, support and educational programs to youth aged 13 to 24 who are in financial need and struggle with mental illness, disorders and addictions. The organization offers 10 free therapy sessions, according to its website.

Kay said that Young Ones has a team of professionals associated with the organization who could provide therapeutic treatment either out of their offices or within the community.

However, Kay said that youth do not need to use the treatment program to use the free peer support services.

At Ryerson, typical wait times for a low safety-risk student can be up to four weeks for an initial appointment, according to data obtained from the university’s Student Development and Counselling Centre. The next appointment for ongoing care could be three to six months for these students.

“We (Young Ones) could be providing treatment or therapeutic sessions” while they are on the wait-list at Ryerson, said Kay, who is the group’s vice-chair and educational program facilitator. “We are a resource that the university could refer out.”

Kay and Bellows of Young Ones Group (Courtesy Mhairi Kay)

Bellows and Kay of the Young Ones group (Courtesy Mhairi Kay)

The Young Ones recently started an online support group to make it easier to communicate. The free peer support group launched on Facebook in November.

Students who are afraid of attending a face-to-face group would be invited, have access to anonymous support and a “safety net” to talk to peers facing similar situations.

“I think it’s a good starting point to build security and a sense of community before establishing a face-to-face interaction,” Kay said.

Students can be paired with a mentor while they are on the waitlist. Mentors are there to help students apply the skills they learn in clinical treatment, in real life.

For example, during treatment, “(therapists) might teach you to stop, meditate and take 10 deep breaths” in a private, closed room, she said. But in school, Kay said there are noise and environmental factors in a classroom and the technique cannot be used effectively.

Kay said that a mentor who’s been through a similar situation could suggest the peer to instead go to a bathroom and use the same techniques.

The aim of the peer support group is to empower youth, accomplish goals to recovery and provide safety and security to real life, Kay said.

Several Ryerson students volunteer with the initiative as mentors, according to Kristen Bellows, a peer support facilitator and a Ryerson social work graduate.

To learn more, contact Bellows at kybellows@gmail.com.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Dec. 2, 2015.

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