Mental Health: New project eases stressful move from high school to college

Lambton College students engage their high school counterparts as part of new program that aims to ease the anxiety-ridden transition from Grade 12 to college. Submitted Photo

Tara Jeffrey

Coping with stress and anxiety can be a challenge at any age. But for teens about to graduate from high school, life can be an overwhelming struggle.

“This transition time, between adolescence and adulthood — leaving home, choosing a career path — is the most stressful time in the stages of development,” said Charlene Mahon, a Lambton College professor heading up a new project designed to ease the transition from high school to university or college. “We really want to hone in on this particular age group… there’s so many things that students aren’t prepared for, that can just make them sink.”

The new, peer-to-peer mental health support program, “From Tension to Triumph,” is a partnership between Lambton and Kings College, and one of 14 approved under the province’s $6 million Mental Health Innovation Fund.

It links post-secondary and senior high school students through assemblies and in-class presentations aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues on campus, and providing essential coping tools for the transition.

“Because when you leave for college or university, you might have all the academics in gear, but you’re blindsided when you land on campus. There’s so many things that you don’t expect,” said Mahon.

“So the idea is, if you know what’s coming, even if it’s not great, you might be able to manage it. And that’s really what mental health is all about — just trying to get through the day, and feeling OK at the end of it.”

Two pilot cycles of the project were completed at Wallaceburg District Secondary School and North Lambton Secondary School this past year. Members of the Jack Project — Lambton College’s student led mental health initiative — hosted assemblies and classroom discussions, and the feedback, said Mahon, was tremendous.

“Our college students are telling their own stories — it has to be real — and it really resonates with the students,” she said. “Honesty means a lot to young people.”

Mahon hopes to expand the program to more area high schools this fall, including those in the Lambton-Kent and St. Clair Catholic District School Boards.

The ultimate goal is to have a curriculum in place for schools across the province to adopt.

“If we can do this at the early stage, we’ll be graduating mentally healthy young adults, and that’s a benefit to our entire society,” said Mahon, noting the dire need to reduce the number of suicides and attempted suicides in Sarnia-Lambton.

“Because sometimes it’s just so hard, we can just sink. People are feeling hopeless and we want to give them hope that they can get through, and there are people willing to help.”