Increasing Support for Mental Health and Wellness Through Education

My Stretch Experience – Kayla Gulka

As a first scholar of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta and having just finished my third year of my Elementary Education degree program I am excited to share what I have been working on this summer! The “Stretch Experience” is a task that all first year scholars complete over the summer that spans in 200 hours of work in any area that you are passionate about. The idea is that it “stretches” you out of your comfort zone as a leader.

For my Stretch Experience, I knew that I wanted to do something in the area of wellness, seeing as I have worked in wellness promotion at the University of Alberta for the last 2 years. However, what I did not know, was how powerful my actions would be and it wasn’t until our year end project that I realized this. By bravely sharing my own struggles on camera, I came to learn that many students face similar struggles, and this brought me in to some incredibly moving conversations. When people began approaching me telling me their stories, I knew that I waned to go further with this.

I am also very passionate about special needs families as I belong to one. My younger sister has severe Cerebral Palsy, and I wanted to connect my two areas of interest. Special needs families go through a lot, and mental health can suffer as a result of that. I joined in with the Neurosurgery Kids Fund to plan their Annual Christmas Event, and to enrich some of their programming with mental health resources. I have coordinated bookings, planned for restricted diets, and brainstormed ways of incorporating mental health as a theme to upcoming parent events.

In late April, I went to Manitoba to attend a mental health seminar focused on mental health recovery. This session was super cool, but also pretty nerve wracking! I didn’t realize there would be so many interactive activities where we were forced to open up to a room of complete strangers! Yikes. But then I realized, oh yea, I did this on camera for the vodcast so it cant be that bad, lol! The session was cool, and I got a lot of great resources for learning how to help others. This trip was a great opportunity to reflect on how I wanted to bring the things I learned to other people who would benefit from them.

While I was in Winnipeg I also visited the Human Rights Museum, and OMG, it was fan-tast-ic!

I usually hate museums, but I spent a good 4-5 hours there and was fully encompassed in taking it all in. The museum itself is designed so that you have the chance to reflect on everything you see, and to question the various ways that human rights have been stripped from certain populations. This was neat, as I was able to really think about how the things I have learned about in University have real life implications in so many parts of the world. I saw exhibits on Ghandi, Indigenous populations in Canada, Mental Health, Sustainability, Gay Rights, Disability Rights, and many others!

This photo (above), is timeline of all the significant events throughout history that have impacted human rights. It was neat to get a thorough perspective of atrocities that have happened, and explore how these events came to be.

Here is the “Inspiring Change” wall that is near the top of the museum. The idea here is that once you have seen all of the atrocities throughout society you reflect on how you will work to make the world a better place. I thought this was ironic, because it is kind of the same idea that this stretch experience is doing. Throughout our first year of course work, we are exposed to some deep content that reflects hardship and struggle. Then, over the summer we reflect on those and determine what we want to make change in as leaders. Here is my version:

This look out point was on top of the museum, this was engineered so that you can apply all that you learned to the real world. Take a step back, and realize your potential to make change.

I am also very passionate about special needs families as I belong to one. My younger sister has severe Cerebral Palsy, and I wanted to connect my two areas of interest- Mental Health and Special Needs Children. Special needs families go through a lot, and their mental health can suffer as a result of that. I joined in with the Neurosurgery Kids Fund to plan their Annual Christmas Event, and to enrich some of their programming with mental health resources. I have coordinated bookings, planned for restricted diets, and brainstormed ways of incorporating mental health as a theme to upcoming parent/family events.

As I got more involved, I was motivated to do more. I am also working with the Active U field trip program through Campus and Community Recreation at the U of A. I had an idea to work wellness curriculum into recreation based field trips as a way to introduce mental health concepts to young students early on. I am in the planning phase currently, and will launch the program September 2019. I hope that these field trips will help teachers in teaching their students about mental health, and also help the students foster healthy behaviors for a life full of resilience and healthy coping mechanisms! I am excited to leave a legacy on campus for students to enjoy!

Well that’s all for now! But I am so excited to hear what the other scholars are up to this summer. See you all in September!

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