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“When students are in distress, they are most likely to turn to their peers”: UNB’s Peer Support Centre Offers Mental Health and Wellness Activities

When the pressures of university become overwhelming, what could be better than playing with some dogs, painting or simply connecting with friends?

The Peer Support Centre (PSC) is a new mental health and wellness service available on the UNB campus, and it is beginning to gain some momentum. The PSC aims to provide a safe space for students to take a break and connect with others, hang out with therapy dogs, engage in mindfulness activities or grab a cup of tea. Trained student volunteers are also available to provide non-judgemental and confidential peer support.

The PSC opened its doors last February, following a two-year brainstorming process. The initial vision was to offer one-on-one support by students, for students.

“When students are in distress, they are most likely to turn to their peers for support, [especially when they are] reluctant to seek out the services of a counsellor,” said Rice Fuller, director of Counselling Services. Unfortunately, low turnouts followed the initial opening.

This year, the PSC is instead “operating on a more outreach-oriented approach,” according to centre coordinator Hilary Swan. The centre now places greater emphasis on wellness activities, such as dog rooms, planting parties, mindfulness painting and gratitude activities.

So far, this approach has been more successful—and as it turns out, the supportive conversations the PSC was looking to facilitate in the first place are, as Swan said, “happening naturally, in a more organic way.

“Some of the conversations taking place at our events,” Swan added. “It’s amazing to see how therapeutic our services can be.”

Swan also said that these therapeutic conversations were the work of dedicated volunteers. The centre’s volunteer network consists of 15 UNB students who have received foundational active-listening and mental health education. Volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds.

“It is very important to have our volunteers represent UNB’s demographic.,” said Swan. “For instance, we have members on our team from each faculty, we have new students, mature students, international students, people who identify as LGBTQ… This is key, because when everyone is represented, it can help make everyone feel comfortable to be their authentic selves.”

The Peer Support Centre is open every Monday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. (a therapy dog comes by at 1 p.m.) in SUB room 103.  

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