When students arrive on campus this week for the start of a new academic year, The University of Winnipeg’s Peer Wellness Educators (PWEs) will be among those there to greet them.
Wellness is broad. It’s not just mental health.
PWEs raise awareness of mental health and wellness on campus with the aim of fostering safety and inclusion, building community, and protecting against the stressors and adversity that fellow students may face.
“It’s students looking out for other students,” said Chelsea McClelland, a Counsellor with UWinnipeg’s Student Counselling Services who facilitates the Peer Wellness Educator program. “Talking to a peer is less formal, and it can be less intimidating to talk to another student who knows what you’re going through and is familiar with university life.”
The Peer Wellness Educator program was restarted in January 2023 after the COVID-19 pandemic. A team of 12 PWEs have been hired for this fall.
During Orientation, PWEs will be on hand to answer questions and provide information on health and wellness services. They will help students with the check-in process, share information about mental health resources, and encourage conversations about mental health.
“It’s a chance for students to ask questions and we can share information with them,” McClelland said.
Throughout the year, PWEs will also hold outreach events to promote mental health and wellness education on campus.
A listening ear
Later this fall, students who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed will be able to visit the Wellness Centre and talk to PWEs one-on-one.
PWEs aren’t for those experiencing an acute mental health crisis. Rather, they are for students in need of a listening ear—someone who can normalize and validate what they are going through.
“It might be a little bit of information about anxiety or depression or study skills,” McClelland said.
McClelland said it’s normal to feel stressed at times during the academic year. Talking through those feelings, rather than keeping them bottled up, can help students process and move beyond them to a place of confidence and calm.
“One of the things we see a lot is that students think they’re all alone and that no one else is going through this stress,” McClelland said. “But in fact, it’s very, very common.”
Wellness has taken on renewed importance in the wake of the pandemic. McClelland noted many first-year students are arriving at university after a prolonged period of remote learning.
Students are sometimes hesitant to seek out supports available to them. McClelland said that may be because they have concerns about confidentiality or simply don’t know what support and resources are available. Stigma surrounding mental health is also a factor.
But asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. It’s an acknowledgement that sometimes, we all need a little help, especially when navigating a new environment, such as a university.
True wellness is multi-dimensional, involving social, spiritual, occupational, emotional, physical, environmental, and intellectual aspects.
“Wellness is broad. It’s not just mental health,” said McClelland.
Visit the Student Wellness homepage for a full list of UWinnipeg’s counselling and health services.
Follow the Wellness Centre on Instagram for wellness-related tips, resources, and events.
Access the Fall Orientation homepage to register for an first-year orientation session. In-person and virtual options are available.