Interview with our president: Taking care of ourselves and each other
October 09, 2020

Tomorrow (Oct. 10) is World Mental Health Day.

We sat down with Georgian’s President and CEO Dr. MaryLynn West-Moynes to talk about how the college is supporting students and employees during COVID-19 and why it’s important to prioritize our mental health and well-being during this time.

Tell us a bit about how the pandemic is impacting mental health at Georgian. Our lives have been impacted considerably and we’ve faced numerous challenges both individually and collectively. Fear of the unknown has led to increased anxiety. Many are experiencing even greater social isolation than ever before. Students and employees have had to learn new ways of learning, working and harnessing technology. Some have had to grieve without being given the opportunity to properly say goodbye to loved ones. Many families have had to cope with working and teaching remotely as well as supporting remote learning for younger family members and other uncertainties. While I’m incredibly proud of our efforts to support each other, I know it’s been a difficult time for all.

How have you been taking care of yourself? I love these tips by our Mental Health and Well-being Committee. The committee shared them early on during the pandemic and I’ve referred to them several times both personally and in messages to students and employees. Staying connected with family and friends has been key for me. Connecting with my grandchildren always helps, even if it’s at a distance. I try to get lots of fresh air and take breaks outside with my dog Gracie when I can. Self-care looks different for everyone. Often, it can be really hard work and some days it’s more of a challenge to find ways to support our well-being than others, particularly when we’re struggling.

What lessons have you learned from this experience? You’ve likely heard me say this before but in many ways, I believe this pandemic is perhaps the ultimate lesson in the classroom of life: things don’t always go as planned. What matters is how we respond and the mindset we adopt. I try to adopt a positive mindset – one of hope and kindness. It’s not as easy as it sounds and this is why it’s important we support ourselves and those around us as best we can to create a culture of caring and a community of support. We really are in this together.

I’ve also re-learned how important it is to set aside time for self-care. This can be hard for those of us who are caregivers by nature and I have to admit this has been a challenge when my first thoughts always go to the thousands of students and employees who call Georgian home. But taking care of yourself means you’re better able to take care of others, and that you show up for your work or studies more grounded and focused.

Beige dog, lab?, playing in leaves

There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health. Would you say the conversation has changed, particularly at Georgian? Absolutely. I felt it start to change pre-pandemic but COVID-19 has brought it to the forefront. When I began my postsecondary career over 35 years ago, mental health was not something you discussed. People quietly suffered and no doubt felt extremely alone. Minimal supports were in place. Now, it’s become a priority – not only at Georgian but at postsecondary institutions and workplaces everywhere. There’s more openness and willingness to understand and to support each other. That said, there’s still a lot of important work to be done. We can all play a role in creating a caring, responsive community that supports mental health and well-being. 

Head shot of Dr. MaryLynn West-Moynes, Georgian College's President and CEO, in suit, sitting in student space in Peter B. Moore Advanced Technology Centre

What does the college have in place to support the Georgian community at this time? The college is working to increase everyone’s comfort and confidence to know about and talk about mental health and well-being. We’ve held (and continue to hold) a number of well-being workshops, shared articles and resources, and there are college and community supports available for both students and employees, including free, confidential counselling.

Our Centre for Teaching and Learning, in collaboration with Athletics, the Mindfulness Community of Practice, and our Mental Health and Well-being Committee launched a great initiative called GC@3. It’s a daily 10-minute facilitated mindfulness practice that gives us all an opportunity to pause, connect and keep grounded. Anyone can join!

We’re going to officially launch our Mental Health and Well-being Strategic Plan on Oct. 19 – the culmination of almost two years of work. It’s a comprehensive, holistic plan that will guide our path toward flourishing mental health and well-being at the college. More than 780 Georgian community members from all campuses provided input.

What might you say to someone who is struggling right now? You’re not alone. Please reach out for support. Whatever you’re feeling is normal and okay. Georgian is here for you.

Aside from the resources and services the college offers, here are some community supports I recommend to anyone too:

  • AbilitiCBT: an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy program; complete a short assessment and begin right away
  • Beacon digital therapy: available to support Ontarians through stress and mental well-being concerns during COVID-19
  • Wellness together Canada: tools and resources for addressing low mood, worry, substance use, social isolation and relationship issues
  • Togetherall: an online peer-to-peer support community for your mental health
  • Bounce Back: learn skills to help you manage worry and anxiety, combat unhelpful thinking, and become more active and assertive
  • WellCan app: resources to assist Canadians develop coping strategies and build resilience to help deal with uncertainty, mental health and substance abuse concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic

What quote gets you through difficult times like these? I keep this quote by poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou close and think about it from time to time: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Be safe, stay well, choose kindness and share hope everyone!

Georgian cares about your mental health and well-being and is here to support you. Connect with us at mhwb@georgiancollege.ca or visit GeorgianCollege.ca/MHWB.