Team Unbreakable’s successful model for promoting mental health involves training teachers and adult coaches to deliver a 12-week module to young students, usually in a school setting. But what if the model was also adapted so that young adults would teach each other the course material?
University of Toronto Kinesiology student Nicole Kuzmich was tasked with creating such a peer-to-peer pilot program. In the spring of 2021, Nicole and four other UoT Kinesiology students each recruited 1-2 friends to take part of a shortened, on-line program. This included teaching 2 modules per week each Friday and having the participants report back in a week on their physical activities and mood.
The peer-to-peer program also included an opportunity to post updates, questions and observations which Nicole said was helpful in keeping everyone engaged. Especially during COVID-19 restrictions, it was great to have a more social connection with a group like this, she said “We would share if we’d had a bad week, and talk about our health and it has been a chance to meet new people.”
“With a peer-to-peer group like this, there is more relaxed atmosphere. We could more easily support each other, so there was no pressure.”
While reading weekly run logs, the leaders were able to see how the participants were progressing and if the program was making an impact. “We saw very good results both from a qualitative and quantitative basis. One member of the group confided that the program helped her mental health by providing a structure in her day – especially important since she had been recently laid off from her job. Another person had given up on regular exercise and realized how much he had missed running when he was younger.” For Nicole, she found herself using the meditation techniques more often during the week.
Nicole has realized the potential of this type of teaching and is anxious to refine what she has learned. One of her observations is the opportunity to create more engagement. For example, on the module about healthy eating, one of the leaders could be in their kitchen actually cooking up a healthy dish.
The program has potential to serve the 16-24 age group, in high schools and at the university level, Nicole believes. There are already peer-to-peer leadership programs in schools for other activities and this could be added as an after-school activity. The 12-week modules have been created with the sanctioning and assistance of Dr. Catherine Sabiston, a Professor of exercise and health psychology at the University of Toronto.
DEFINITELY A NEED
Team Unbreakable Executive Director Laura Somerville said: “We are excited about this pilot program and look forward to refining it further. There is definitely a need for this type of program for young adults. Recent studies are showing that mental health in youth is deteriorating as a result of COVID-19 restrictions,” she said. “We thank Nicole and her colleagues Conrad Kesek, Cathleen Dhaliwal, Owen Geo, and Ayda Babakhamseh for their support to Team Unbreakable during their co-op placement with us this year.”
In 2021, Team Unbreakable received a $117,000 Resilient Communities Fund grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to pivot its delivery model and expand ways to meet the needs of youth and educators to continue to support metal health and well-bring across Ontario. The peer-to-peer pilot is a result of this work.
For more information about Team Unbreakable go to: teamunbreakable.ca and follow us on Instagram at @officialteamunbreakable or on Twitter at @teamunbreakable.