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Students provide support to peers facing mental health challenges

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Sep 27, 2023

Category: UNB Saint John , UNB Fredericton

As peer supporters at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), Amanda Smith and James Martin provide confidential help to students experiencing mental health challenges. As people with lived experience, they listen, share and offer resources.

Smith is a fifth-year mature bachelor of arts (BA) student majoring in psychology and student union president on the Fredericton campus. She has also personally experienced trauma, so she understands the importance of knowing her emotions, how they show up in the body and how to foster meaningful connections with herself and others.

“I understand what it is like to live and thrive with mental health conditions. I recognize how overwhelming things can be, whether with school or other elements of one's life,” said Smith.

“Not being able to have your emotions and feelings validated can inhibit you from being the best version of yourself. Being able to put your mental health first is important as you're not going to be fully engaged and able to focus on your education and what you're learning.”

Through her work for the UNB Student Union, Smith has worked with Matthew MacLean and April Kennedy from UNB’s Counselling Services to fund counselling on Wednesday evenings. She recognizes the importance of the UNB peer support program.

“Right now, we are in a new era where we just came out of COVID, and many people are struggling and not feeling connected,” said Smith. “I recognize the university’s efforts to create enhanced services like this peer support group while increasing access to counselling appointments. Mental health is important and we must keep pushing the message that we are here to help.”

A peer supporter on UNB’s Saint John campus, Martin is a fourth-year BA student majoring in psychology.

“Peer supporters have lived through one or many mental illnesses and hardships and we can easily relate to students,” he said. “Students who see us say they feel seen and not like you are judging them in any way. They clearly understand that you have gone through something similar.”

Martin, who is graduating next spring and beginning an MEd in counselling at UNB next fall, is proud of the diversity of the peer support team and how the training he received through the program has contributed to his success as a peer supporter.

“The training we received from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) was excellent,” he said. “I also received suicide prevention training and peer supporters are receiving ongoing additional training throughout the year.”

Martin recognizes the impact he has on the lives of others.

“I have had many students, even just after the first talk with me, say that they feel much more relaxed and less stressed about whatever issue was bothering them,” he said. “Talking to a peer supporter can be less scary than talking to a counsellor. It’s more like talking to a friend.”

Learn more about how you can become involved as a peer supporter or access support on the Fredericton and Saint John campuses.

During September, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) is shining a light on the Student Experience through stories that showcase how the university tries to foster a vibrant, inclusive and supportive culture for its students. This is the last story in the series.

The first three stories in the series:
UNB Cricket Club: Strong bonds formed through connection and camaraderie
UNB students step into another world through study abroad program
Sisters of Charity want UNB scholarship to ‘help make education possible for everyone’