Terrace, BC—Coast Mountain College’s (CMTN) first suicide prevention student engagement officer Emma De Vynck has been making an incredible impact across the region.
At the start of the academic year in September, De Vynck with a background in mental health was hired at CMTN and tasked in leading initiatives to better student wellness.
“Being a student is a unique, challenging time in one’s life. Your brain is going through all these changes as you learn and your identity is shifting, so it’s incredibly important to have that support,” De Vynck explains, who is also referred to as the mental wellness officer.
“We often tell ourselves that mental health doesn’t apply to us, so we deny that help until we hit a serious breaking point... by running these events, it helps build that exposure and vocabulary to deal with that stress.”
In the span of the fall semester, she spearheaded three Beyond the Blues events at the Terrace, Smithers and Prince Rupert campuses which brought in mental health consultants and showcased community resources for students. De Vynck also led a Stressbusters Day, Men’s Wellness Day, and other smaller events.
“These events were so successful because they were a good mix of being fun and relaxing. I planned it in a way in which I would have wanted to go to as a student,” she says.
“Sometimes you don’t have the capacity to attend a high-intensity event and they can seem very intimidating, especially when you start to talk about it.”
A graduate from the social work program at the University of Victoria, De Vynck says she was in awe to see how community-oriented CMTN is compared to bigger institutions. She sees the College as a safe place to start these types of conversations.
Living in a remote region has its downsides though and she says it’s important to acknowledge that. From Indigenous communities dealing with generational trauma to gender and race-based discrimination still found in many industries across northern B.C., there are many societal barriers that may discourage students from opening up.
“People in social services go above and beyond but there’s still a serious lack of resources here to help everyone [so it can be hard at times] to refer a student,” says De Vynck.
“We’re also dealing with an opioid epidemic and it lurks in the minds of students, you just can’t ignore it.”
Hearing concerns from students surrounding the opioid crisis, De Vynck introduced Naloxone training with Northern Health at the Terrace campus to teach participants how to identify and administrate a kit if there is an overdose.
So far, two sessions have been held where both CMTN staff and students received their certifications. De Vynck says more training will be announced next semester and at other campuses.
Come January, students can look forward to a sexual wellness event, a pet therapy cafe and Bell Let’s Talk week. February will be CMTN’s first “End Mental Health Stigma” month filled with weekly events and speakers.
“I'm very comfortable talking about my mental health but I know it’s still a scary word for a lot of people so we’re taking baby steps and keeping it fun. I want to empower students to share what they’ve learned here with their own communities.” she says.
“Life is never not going to be easy so we need to rally together and have a good laugh sometimes, to remind us that we’re not alone.”
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