Tuesday 16 October 2018

Smile week for mental health

St. Angela's College promotes wellbeing

Jenny McCudden

As exam season fast approaches students using St. Angela's College library may be pleasantly surprised to find a note wishing them luck tucked into a course book.

That's just one of the many Random Acts of Kindness you might happen across at the Lough Gill Campus.

"We are building on our Random Acts of Kindness Campaign," explains Aoife Deasy, "Students can nominate someone who is having a hard time, they may have failed an exam and we will surprise them in a nice way. We might call to their house with ice-cream. The idea is to cheer someone up when they are down."

Last week was all about promoting positivity in the teacher and nursing training college. On a visit to the beautiful campus on the shores of Lough Gill Student Union President, Aoife, fills me in: "Smile week is a week long programme of events for staff and students to promote positive mental health. We have everything from charity cake sales, talks, mindfulness to fun-filled activities that will put a smile on your face like paint balling."

As I arrive volunteer students are arranging cupcakes, cookies and tarts on a large table in the canteen. A delicious display of home-made treats look tempting. I opt for a slice of chocolate biscuit cake and don't feel guilty as all proceeds go to Pieta House.

"That must have been made by a home economics student," I guessed.

Indeed it was. In fact, I'm told that some of the students like 4th year Karen Keating even sell their cakes online. Away from the hustle and bustle of the canteen students could take part in candle lit mindfulness, a chance to reflect and take some time out.

"The best thing about this week is that it gets the student population talking about mental health and removes the stigma," says Aoife.

"It's about reinforcing the positive. It's more effective to do fun things in terms of engaging the students. We are going to release balloons with our worries attached to them. We are going to paint balls and hit them against the wall at the soccer pitch and when the paint dries we will write positive slogans," she adds.

On a more serious note, St. Angela's is extremely proactive in promoting positive mental health. So much so that all third years get free access to a HSE certified suicide prevention training programme called Assist.

"This is basically like a first aid training for suicide prevention. It is hard hitting. You have to commit to it. You learn to talk someone down off a ledge. You are put in a mock situation where someone is very vulnerable and you are advised what to do next. It's basically like a first aid course for suicide prevention."

As SU President Aoife says students experience different levels of stress: "It could be as basic as looking for a bus timetable or wanting to drop out." But she says: "If you knock on our door we are here to help."

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