By: Katie Lehwald

Trying to find your place in University can be difficult. For Alise deBie, this endeavor was complicated by her concurrent struggle with mental health concerns.

“I had just come to Mac for school and didn’t want to feel alone as a crazy student on campus,” said deBie.

To avoid this, deBie formed the Hamilton chapter of the international Mad Students Collective and began spending her spare time doing outreach on behalf of students with psychiatric histories and mental health concerns. The group is currently composed of over 160 members between the ages of 16 and 60, all who have personal experiences with mental illness.

Admittedly unorthodox, the group identifies as a community rather than an MSU club. Serving as the coordinator of the HMSC, deBie puts students in contact with peers who share common ground. Peer support, as mandated by the group, is offered by students with lived experience of mental health issues. The collective is composed of students in the local Hamilton community, not limited to those attending or looking to attend McMaster specifically.

The HMSC’s peer support methods manifest themselves in many ways. Students can meet for coffee or social events, attend healthcare appointments together, or just connect for someone to talk to. Just last week, deBie and peers relieved workday stress by building a fort in her TA office.

A more formal and recent initiative made by the collective is their Wellness Recovery Action Plan self-help group. Developed in 1997, WRAP is an internationally recognized evidence-based recovery education program. Offering the program to the McMaster community at no cost, the HMSC has turned this into a peer-led program, facilitated by trained volunteers.

The WRAP program has been used successfully by St. Joseph’s Hospital and by the Mental Health Rights Coalition in Hamilton, and will now be available at McMaster. Peer support is an important element in the workshops.

DeBie testifies to the benefits of the program based on her own experience with madness.

“I was trained to be a WRAP facilitator in May as part of peer support training I did in Toronto. We’re running WRAP groups at Mac this year as an extension of what we do,” said DeBie.

“A lot of our support is informal or drop-in based and sometimes this can be a barrier to folks who prefer a more structured environment and find this more accessible to them [as it is] less nerve-wracking and more controlled. It also has content that helps us make plans around wellness – and planning can be really helpful to feeling more in control over your life. I’ve definitely felt this has been really helpful for me”

Groups began Sept. 23 and will be hosted every Tuesday from 4:15 to 6:45 p.m. for eight weeks.

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