My Experience as a Student at the CMHA College of Health & Well-Being

My name is Constantina and I am a communications committee member with Eli’s Place. I am also a client with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and I have had the pleasure of partaking in one of their programs.

What is the CMHA College of Health & Well-Being?

I face severe challenges with managing a mental illness and last year, my family and I were looking for support. Then, I came across the CMHA College of Health & Well-Being. This resource promotes recovery, well-being, and knowledge. To speak to the challenges I was facing, it was difficult maintaining stability and managing episodic experiences, while balancing new medical issues. My unstable mood and health obstacles impacted my ability to work and overall, led to overwhelming feelings. Additionally, I was unable to take care of myself and required additional support from my parents due to my health circumstances. 

The CMHA College of Health & Well-Being — widely known as Recovery College —  is a free, virtual opportunity for individuals with mental health challenges to attend a wide variety of courses. As mentioned on the CMHA website, Recovery Colleges are “based on a successful community mental health model from the UK, and are focused on personal recovery in mental health and well-being.” 

This model, “provides an innovative learning space where anyone can access free courses, webinars, workshops, and events. To learn, gain new skills, and connect with others in their community.” Find more information about Toronto’s offering HERE. You can even sign up if you are not a client, thereafter you will be contacted by a caseworker to become a client through an onboarding session. I found the process to be smooth and open. I participated with the York Region facility and more information about the courses offered this winter may be found HERE

Debrief of Courses

In 2022, I participated in a total of 25 courses to aid in my recovery, below I have listed a few of the courses I found most helpful:

  • Balancing Boundaries
  • Managing Perfectionism
  • Assertiveness
  • Activity, Time Use and Mental Health
  • Self-Forgiveness
  • PeerZone: Empowering Ourselves in Mental Health Service
  • PeerZone: Conflict in Relationships
  • Stigma and Mental Health 
  • PeerZone: Enhancing our Relationships

As you may notice, there is a wide variety of courses on many different topics. Each class runs for an hour weekly for 4 to 12 sessions depending on the course. Each course includes thought-provoking course content that enables learning and growth. For example, in one session of Enhancing our Relationships, we analyzed images of individuals in relationships and commented if we perceived them to be strong or weak ties. This allowed us to take this one step further and reflect on relationships in our lives that are stronger or weaker and why that is. We had a discussion about our perspectives and experiences with the class.

The facilitators conduct a mix of lecture style and live workshop approaches when presenting course content. Participants are welcome to ask questions and facilitators ensure there are opportunities for discussions to engage openly and frequently throughout the session. The facilitators are always well-prepared and knowledgeable on the topics.

Positive Experience

Think about things differently - My Experience as a Student at the CMHA.

Through my involvement, I recognized that the facilitators and peer support workers are compassionate, supportive and kind in nature. If I ever have a question, comment or concern, I can voice my thoughts openly with the facilitators and gain valuable feedback. If there is a course concept that I am unfamiliar with and require additional explanation, the facilitators are patient and equipped to re-address and explain the concept.

The participants attending encompass all ages. Some are on leaves of absence at work looking to fill their days with meaningful learning opportunities. Others are working part-time and prioritizing attending the groups to benefit their mental health. A constant theme I have recognized through chatting with participants if they are looking for support, perhaps even advice on how to handle a particular situation related to the course subject. I often see the same participants throughout the different courses and it is always nice to see a friendly face.

Regarding the zoom experience, we are not required to have our cameras on and if you are not speaking, you are expected to have your microphone off. We use the raise hand feature on zoom to take turns when we have questions, comments, concerns or want to address a question posed to the group. The space is quite relaxed and there is no pressure to speak during the class if you are not feeling up to it that day. Creating a very comfortable space. Another important point to note is that each class begins with group norms we all abide by. Such norms include confidentiality expectations — “what is said in group stays in group” is the exact language shared and agreed on. 

The virtual space created is a non-judgmental and inclusive environment with welcoming, kind participants. I identify with this as I recognize the importance of the values of inclusivity and feeling safe to discuss anything I am comfortable sharing. Everyone’s unique perspective is welcomed with open arms and this makes the courses even more interesting. Overall, Recovery College has impacted me positively and I am very grateful for my experience. 

Contribution to my mental health journey

Journey - My Experience as a Student at the CMHA.

When I reflect on my mental health and the state I was in at the beginning of 2022 versus the end of 2022, I notice an improvement: An improvement in my mindset, strategies, coping mechanism and overall, my mental health toolbox. I know that Recovery College is one piece of the pie that has supported me through my mental health journey. I lost my voice last year, and as cliche, as it may sound, I have found my voice again.

I’m confidently able to advocate for myself through sharing my story, communicating what I need, when I need it, and clearly articulating how I am feeling. The participants and I are part of this community, where we learn from each other and listen to one another. This is special as we exchange wisdom. What works and does not work for each individual and the consistent sharing of unique perspectives through gaining knowledge. 

In my journey, I have recognized the importance of routine. Key components of my routine include waking up and going to bed at around the same time daily, getting 8+ hours of sleep so I can function well the next day, eating 3 meals a day, regular exercise such as hot yoga classes, regular walks throughout the day for fresh air and weekly social experiences. It can be difficult to maintain these pillars when I am experiencing a flare-up of a health/mental health issue. For example, I was hospitalized last year due to my health concerns and this affected my sleep schedule. Additionally, I was not exercising and I had a lack of appetite. Therefore my key routine pillars were sacrificed and this affected my well-being.

The courses assist individuals to create a routine that integrates this aspect of learning and growth in your weekly practices. This has been extremely helpful in my healing journey and continues to be. I am very appreciative of CMHA as an organization, the facilitators I have crossed paths with and the inspiring, strong and unique participants I have had the pleasure of learning alongside. 

I strongly recommend CMHA’s Recovery College if you are looking for a new resource to support you in your recovery and mental health journey. You will learn new concepts, be supported and take home valuable skills and life lessons for your toolkit. Furthermore, you will be a part of a community of mental health advocates that are also on their own journeys of recovery. Together, with an open mindset, you will inspire those around you and be inspired. 

Eli’s Place will be a rural, residential treatment program for young adults with serious mental illness. To learn more about our mission and our proven-effective model click here.

Constantina Venetis | Eli’s Place Volunteer

Constantina Venetis is a communications committee member with Eli’s Place. She is an advocate for mental health and recognizes the importance of ending the stigma circulating about mental health. She has a business background, specializing in marketing and hopes to merge her passion for well-being with her creative background. 

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This March, CanadaHelps will make an additional one-time donation of $20 for every new monthly gift of $20 or more in support of Eli’s Place!*