Bridging the department gap in mental health support

A project funded by the GSA Quality Money

When Suzanne, a PhD international student in the Department of Geography, started at the University of Calgary, she faced many struggles with her mental health in her first PhD year. As she was looking for solutions for herself, she decided to take on any mental health trainings available at the University of Calgary and help other graduate students with their mental health.

She recognized a gap in Departments’ mental health support, especially in normalizing mental health conversations and integrating mental health priorities, training, or support. Meanwhile, compared to other Departments, Geography is unique in its diversity, with great multiculturalism of graduate students at different stages of their lives and careers, studying both Arts and Science disciplines. Half of Geography graduate students at UCalgary are international, and uniquely vulnerable due to their lack of meaningful social support structures, and unfamiliarity with a new culture, city, and academic system.

That was when Suzanne decided to apply for the GSA Quality Money to develop an intercultural and inclusive approach to mental health, tailored to graduate students in the Department of Geography, accommodating diverse ways of communication and ways of knowing and being. This Quality Money application aims to pave the way to critically engage the Department of Geography in graduate student mental health, through developing a strategy document to integrate mental health priorities into Department and GeoGSA institutional culture, processes, protocols, and activities.

This project is by graduate students, for graduate students.

Suzanne Chew

Specifically, Quality Money funded the hiring of two graduate students to engage Geography graduate students, faculty, and staff, to map out the needs and concerns related to mental health, the ways in which graduate students would prefer to be supported by the Department, and the intercultural considerations of such support.

Currently, the project is still ongoing, but it has already made great impact on Geography graduate student community. More and more mental health conversations were conducted through public jam boards and workshops. These activities create a safe space for mental health conversations and understanding of the mental health challenges that the faculty and department might not have been aware of. The project helped create a permanent VP Mental Health position in the Geography Graduate Students’ Association which could be the first ever VP Mental Health position in any GSA departmental graduate associations. The final delivery of the project will be a list of recommendations to the department to inspire other departments and graduate students to implement similar mental health initiatives.

When it comes to having a new project idea, Suzanne has a few recommendations for UCalgary graduate students to get it started:

  1. Find strategic partners within the UCalgary communities or outside of the UCalgary communities that could elevate your project, write letters of support, brainstorm the ideas with you, and give you valuable advice for your project;
  2. Contact the GSA governance.gsa@ucalgary.ca and learn about the GSA Quality Money funding, especially what expenses are eligible, how to write a successful application, and how to record the project for the final report; and
  3. Don’t be afraid to talk to other people about your ideas.

Special thanks to Suzanne for sharing her experience with the GSA Quality Money. If you have any questions about this project, please contact Suzanne at suzanne.chew1@ucalgary.ca

Learn more about the GSA Quality Money Program here: gsa.ucalgary.ca/quality-money