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Painting, therapy dogs help students unwind

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PAINTING and pets were the keys to starting a conversation about mental health at Red River College recently.

It all started with a mental-health club and awareness campaign I launched in the fall called Mind It!

I started the club because there was a simple message I wanted to get out to students: Just as we all have bodies and physical health, we all have minds and mental health.

The aim of this student-led initiative is to make talking about mental health not just less intimidating for students, but fun, and to unify students, Red River College and organizations in our community.

In partnership with the Winnipeg region Canadian Mental Health Association and support from St. John Ambulance and the Red River College Students' Association (RRCSA), we have been able to put on events at Red River College that shed new light on what mental health means.

One of our first events was to have students take a few minutes a day to paint, helping them relax and forget about studying for mid-terms for a short while.

We set up tables with canvases and paint supplies in hallways at Red River College's Notre Dame and Exchange District campuses and invited students to come paint with their hands, brushes and even straws.

Within a few minutes of setting up, our tables were full of students, many laughing and chatting with each other as they painted, while others enjoyed a quiet break to themselves. Between the two events, 100 people made a piece of art, and far more stopped by to check out what was going on.

Another event aimed to help students de-stress with pet therapy. Five therapy dogs from St. John Ambulance came by and encouraged students to take a break from studying and have some fun.

From a veteran Labradoodle therapy dog named Hawksley to a new Papillon recruit named Halo, there was a friend for everyone. In total, more than 75 students came by to play with the dogs and everyone walked away with a smile.

As a student, it is clear to me that my peers are under a lot of pressure, and feelings of stress and anxiety are common. There is a need for Mind It!, but we are a student club with no operating budget.

This leads me to what is possibly most encouraging about the success of our events so far, and that is the way different organizations and groups worked together to make student mental health a priority.

Without the support of the CMHA, St. John Ambulance and the students' association, it would have been difficult for Mind It! to put on these events. It is absolutely necessary that colleges and universities, student-led mental-health initiatives and mental-health organizations engage each other and pool resources if we are to reach as many students as possible.

We've got another pet-therapy event Nov. 20 at Red River College's Exchange District campus, 160 Princess St., from noon to 2 p.m. It's free and everyone is invited to come by and say hello to therapy dogs Clark, Tucker, Henry, Bailey, Lexi and Halo!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2013 A4

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