Conestoga news

November 15, 2020 7:24 PM

Awards recognize student mental health supports

Conestoga peer support navigator Kayleigh Hilborn, along with The Breathing Space -- a mental wellness area located at the college’s Doon campus, have been honoured with Lighthouse Innovator Awards from the Ontario Peer Development Initiative (OPDI).

Conestoga College - K Hilborn.jpe
Peer support navigator Kayleigh Hilborn has been honoured with a Lighthouse Innovator Award from the Ontario Peer Development Initiative.

The award honours community organizations that have shown creativity and innovation in their work around mental health and addiction, including unique approaches to peer-driven research or system design, innovation in peer-delivered service, and innovation in public education or anti-stigma/anti-discrimination campaigns.

“I was very happy that we were nominated and grateful to hear that we had won,” said Hilborn, whose services are made available to the college through an arrangement with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington. “I’m very appreciative of this award, and all the hard work and dedication from everyone that has worked to bring the Breathing Space to life, and to the students who allow me to be to part of their experience as well.”

The Breathing Space offers group space, a relaxation lounge, meditation rooms and support from Hilborn. Since it was created and launched in 2018, The Breathing Space has given students a safe space to experience distress and reduced waits for mental health support.

“Students have had a positive response to the Breathing Space. I think some of the appeal comes from the space itself: lots of natural light, a quieter space on a loud campus, items to help connect and relax, as well as having the peer navigator, groups and workshops available for students,” added Hilborn.

During this period of remote service delivery, Hilborn has continued to offer peer support mental health services over the phone. Through the spring term she recorded a vlog series with relatable messages about coping and managing mental health during the pandemic and remote learning. This fall she has taken The Breathing Space online through delivery of weekly Zoom mental health groups that are based on the previous in-person offerings.

“What motivates me is wanting to find ways to make talking about mental health and addictions easier and to reduce barriers to accessing support. I think about myself and my experiences, I hear the feedback from students and I want to make sure that I am doing what I can to make the supports better and to fit the needs,” said Hilborn.

Over the last year, the Breathing Space has also become well-integrated with counselling services. Through the leadership of Counselling Services manager Patty McColl, Conestoga students are now made aware of the option to access one-to-one and group peer support services. Hilborn has also become a strong voice at campus mental health tables and has been invited to assist in the creation of a campus peer support toolkit with the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health 

“I am proud of the continued growth and collaboration within our student health and wellness services and across all departments,” said Trish Weigel Green, associate vice president, Student Affairs. “The rising awareness of the importance of mental health throughout our Conestoga community is evident. Even as the college transitioned to remote service, the diversity of opportunities for students to find the support they need reflects our innovation and commitment to student well-being and success.”

Conestoga’s Student Success Services is comprised of wellness and learning supports to help students develop skills and gain success. Services include tutoring and academic support, accessible learning, career advising, mental health support and medical care.