Rehabilitation Therapy Student Champions Mental Health Committee
Written By: Caitlin De Smit
Prior to commencing the occupational therapy program at Queen’s, Caitlin De Smit worked in the field of mental health as a youth worker. She developed a passion for mental health after spending countless hours with youth supporting them to overcome the many barriers they faced due to their mental illness. Caitlin was introduced to occupational therapy when she worked on an interdisciplinary team at a transitional housing program. She was immediately drawn to the profession’s holistic approach and their focus on enabling participation in meaningful occupations. In her first year at Queen’s, Caitlin recognized that discussing mental health issues raised awareness among students about their own mental wellness. After becoming the Vice President of the Rehabilitation Therapy Society, Caitlin saw an opportunity to apply her passion for mental health awareness in her new role on student council. Together with other members of the council, she worked to establish a mental health committee made up of representatives from the occupational therapy and physical therapy programs.
The student-led mental health committee works to foster dialogue about mental health and wellness by increasing opportunities for student connection, sharing knowledge, and offering students referrals to appropriate resources. The committee is devoted to building strong interprofessional ties within the School of Rehabilitation Therapy (SRT), as well as between the Schools of Medicine and Nursing. Members of the committee believe that these ties foster a sense of community among future health care professionals that can support positive mental health. Education, conversation and de-stigmatization are principles that guide the committee, encouraging engagement from the entire SRT community.
When the committee first launched in 2018-19, advertisements about its focus resulted in 10 volunteers across the occupational therapy and physical therapy programs. Their inaugural event involved distributing 140 hand-crafted notes of encouragement and positivity to the rehabilitation therapy students during final exams.
The committee also launched a webpage (http://www.rehabsociety.ca/mental-health-committee.html) on the student council website to keep everyone informed of upcoming events and to recruit for additional members from incoming classes. They also launched a Facebook page to share resources about student wellness services and help link people together. Over the summer, the committee members developed a strong plan to promote mental health and wellness for the upcoming year. A key strategy of the committee will be to wear “Let's Talk About Mental Health” badges at key events and activities to introduce the Mental Health Committee members to all rehabilitation therapy students. These badges will ensure visibility of committee members, keep the conversations about mental health going, and encourage student participation in activities supporting mental wellness. Other planned activities include bi-weekly drop-in events focused on self-care and positive mental health, collaboration with students from Schools of Medicine and Nursing around mental health issues, and the provision of “stress busters” care packages during exam weeks.
By formalizing this student-led committee and engaging rehabilitation therapy students at Queen’s, the committee hopes to create a community promoting positive mental health here on campus and beyond.