In response to student voices around the issue of mental health support, the IHPME Graduate Student Union (IHPME GSU) has created a new role as part of its executive team, that of the Health and Wellness lead. The aim of this new role is to launch a series of mental health support initiatives for graduate students and formalize the need for greater attention on this issue.
“There is a lack of student trust towards U of T’s response on student mental health at the moment,” says Elzar Sipin, the newly elected Health and Wellness lead, “we need to rebuild that within the community.”
For Sipin, his main priority is to find ways to address the concerns of students such as knowing where to go and what to do if they are in distress. Some of his ideas include digital initiatives like a health and wellness tab on the IHPME website with easier access to U of T resources, while others have centered around capacity building among the student population.
By creating a health and wellness team Sipin envisions a student’s helping students’ approach to mental health support, with individuals from each cohort trained to act as knowledge experts for their peers, including how to identify and assist when someone is in crisis, or by helping students to recognize their own mental health needs thereby normalizing the conversation around mental health.
“Sometimes in graduate school, you can become really isolated and forget that there are other aspects to being at University, or being part of a community,” says Sipin. “I want to create a culture at IHPME that allows students to foster these skillsets and expertise that many of our students already have working in healthcare, instead of always bringing in someone from the outside.”
Over the past year, the IHPME GSU has offered workshops and programming around mental health and wellness through U of T’s department of Student Life. But GSU president Arlinda Ruco knew that just wasn’t enough.
“We wanted to formalize the continued commitment of the GSU and IHPME in supporting graduate student health and wellness,” says Ruco, “this new role that Elzar is in, allows for recognition across the faculty and the university, but most importantly encourages the engagement of students in being leaders in their own health and wellness.”
Sipin’s background as a mental health nurse gives him a unique perspective for this role as does his current course of graduate study. Being enrolled as a professional degree student in the Master of Health Science in Health Administration (MHSc) program has made him aware he says, of the need for finding balance between work, school, and regular life. Teaching students’ ways to cope that are consistent he says, is what will have the most lasting effect.
“If you lead students who want to create change, you are not only inspiring other students but using that drive to improve student life for everyone,” says Sipin. “The mental health of our students affects the entire Institute including the work of faculty. When students are well, professors are well, it’s a cycle.”
Looking towards 2020, Sipin plans to hold a Mental Health Day at IHPME, an event he also hopes will become an annual occurrence. The event will showcase the voices of students and experts around health, wellness and identity and create a safe space for students to voice their concerns around topics not just related to mental health but identity as well, including, religion, race, and sexual orientation.
“If I can help to create a culture where students and faculty work in collaboration to build an active community of wellness,” says Sipin “we will have made a lasting impact for future IHPME students.”
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