Peer Support Centre launches remote mental health support during pandemic

PSC volunteers are just ‘one click away’

Peer support is available every day of the week.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The AMS Peer Support Centre (PSC) relaunched full-time drop-in mental health services on Sept. 8—but this term, they’re online. 

Remote sessions are a new offering for the PSC. Prior to COVID-19, volunteers would meet face-to-face with peers, offering confidential support and resource referrals. Now, volunteers meet with peers through video-chat platform Zoom, operating under the same mandate of confidentiality the PSC has always used.

“We’ve wanted to take the service online since May, but it was tough to bring it online immediately,” Peter Mendolia, head manager of the PSC, told The Journal. The PSC reopened part-time in June and expanded its hours in August. 

Moving the PSC’s services online has brought logistical challenges, but Mendolia said he’s “tremendously impressed” with how his team adapted. 

READ MORE: AMS to reimburse some student fees in fall term

“The atmosphere of the PSC made that transition much easier,” Mendolia said. “The compassion of the team gave everyone a common goal.” 

Though the PSC has seen the same number of appointments now as this time last year, Mendolia anticipates demand will rise throughout the semester.

“Given the added stressors of COVID-19, I think having peer support is more important now than ever,” he said. “Life has not been paused. We are proud that people know they can access support, and we think that gives students comfort and confidence.” 

“[Our] volunteers are offering the same support as in person,” Mendolia added, explaining that the PSC acts as a liaison between students and other mental health resources. Many of the services it refers students to remain open in compliance with health guidelines, allowing PSC volunteers to offer the same access to resources for students in need of help.

Mendolia said there are challenges in finding ways to host the same social events the PSC has run in previous years, but promised there’s “a lot to be excited about” in the coming months because Christopher Yuen, outreach manager at the PSC, “has been brainstorming ideas.”

Currently, the team is thinking of remote cooking classes that would allow peers to access a supportive environment through Zoom and cook food with PSC volunteers. 

In some ways, Mendolia said remote delivery has enhanced the ability of the PSC to provide support, especially for the PSC x CARED initiative—a collaboration between the PSC and the Committee Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (CARED) to provide specialized peer-to-peer support for Black and Indigenous and/or Persons of Colour (BIPOC).

READ MORE: Peer Support Centre launches partnership with CARED

Prior to the pandemic, the PSC x CARED initiative was limited to only one of the PSC’s locations on campus, rotating each week to ensure access to normal services continued during PSC x CARED hours. With Zoom, Mendolia said PSC x CARED doesn’t need to rotate between locations, alleviating concerns about accessibility. 

However, Mendolia still sees the Centre offering in-person sessions in the future.

“We are meant to be in person,” Mendolia said. “There is no replacement for in-person support, for the level of warmth and compassion that comes from being in the same room as someone.” 

Previously, Mendolia said PSC volunteers could offer someone a hot chocolate, a hug if the person was comfortable with it, or just company.

“Little things like that make such a big difference, but in the meantime, we will make do with what we have,” he said. “We are still here—the same support as ever, only more accessible. Our volunteers are always ready and available, one click away.”

The PSC is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the week. Those interested in accessing its resources can visit the PSC website, or call 613-533-6000, ext. 75111. 

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