New group seeks to fill need for concussion peer support on campus

Founders hope to “create optimism in people who are in the thick of awful symptoms”  

Jesse Topley (Bsci) and Lauren Van Patter (PhD).
Credit: 
CESAPchats

Jesse Topley (Bsci) and Lauren Van Patter (PhD) have established a peer support group for students suffering from concussions. 

Alongside the Concussion Education Safety and Awareness Program (CESAP), Topley and Van Patter have founded CESAPchats. The peer group will provide an opportunity for those suffering from a concussion to connect with others undergoing the same experience. 

According to Topley and Van Patter, CESAPchats plans to begin monthly meetings in the fall and is currently looking to connect with people in the Queen’s community who could benefit. 

An offshoot of CESAP, the new group has connected with other resources on campus such as the Student Wellness Services, Accessibilty Services and Health Services to provide a wider support network. 

While CESAP largely focuses on education about concussions, CESAPchats seeks to respond to the need for peer support among students recovering on campus.

In an interview with The Journal, Van Patter and Topley discussed the link between mental health and concussion recovery. 

“People don’t normally clue in that you’re having this immense physical, cognitive and emotional upheaval,” Van Patter said. “It can be such an isolating experience.” 

She identified the unique challenges faced by a student suffering from a concussion. 

“Yeah there is the understanding that you’re going to have headaches, you’re going to have memory loss,” Topley said. “But there is never the connection between concussions and mental health.” 

Van Patter herself suffered a concussion after slipping on ice, forcing her to defer her doctoral degree. 

“[While] I was fortunate enough to find many healthcare options that really helped me to get along in my recovery, what I always felt was missing was that connection with other people who had had similar experiences,” she said. 

Topley became involved with CESAP in 2016 after founding his own concussion awareness program, Beyond the Headache. Topley played football at Queen’s for three years before suffering a severe concussion, spurring his efforts to raise awareness about the issue.

For him, it was a challenge to give up the sport he'd played for ten years. 

“I started sharing my story as a way to help people,” Topley said. “But it was also a healing process for myself.” 

Topley’s personal experience with recovery in the Queen’s community was a negative one. “The support wasn’t there,” he said. With the university, Topley described failures to follow up and a lack of guidance toward campus resources. 

“I didn’t know that there [were] these student services … no one had made mention of that and no one had made the connection that I might be suffering from mental health issues,” he said.

Topley told The Journal he has been in contact with Queen’s Football and the Athletic Department in an attempt to improve conditions for athletes that suffer concussions. 

“Concussions are still just getting your bell rung and there’s still that gladiator mentality of toughen it up and get out there,” he said. 

According to Topley, support for athletes with concussions “isn’t there still.”

There are a lot of really great resources, it’s just really hard in that state to know what’s available,” Van Patter said. 

“Our overall vision is to create a community where individuals recovering from concussions can get together and share their experiences, feel less alone and feel optimistic about their recovery,” Van Patter said about CESAPchats. 

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