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Leading the way in mental wellness

By Aaron Wilgosh, The Graphic

CMHA Central executive director Kyle Berg, mental health and wellness consultant Melanie Gessell, and Paul Norris with Bell/MTS and the $10,000 cheque. Thrive is a first of its kind in Western Canada. (Aaron Wilgosh/Graphic)

CMHA Central executive director Kyle Berg, mental health and wellness consultant Melanie Gessell, and Paul Norris with Bell/MTS and the $10,000 cheque. Thrive is a first of its kind in Western Canada. (Aaron Wilgosh/Graphic)

Portage la Prairie is home to Western Canada's first recovery college.

Thrive Learning Centre has been up and running for just over a month at 234 Saskatchewan Avenue East since the Canadian Mental Health Association's Central Region changed its drop-in centre over to a more traditional classroom-style setting.

“It's been great so far,” says Melanie Gessell, mental health and wellness consultant at Thrive. “We've had really positive feedback from our students. Students say the skills they're learning here are improving their lives, changing their family dynamics, and giving them a sense of empowerment. It's exactly what we wanted.”

A recovery education centre, also known as a recovery college, provides an opportunity for anybody in the community to learn more about mental health, mental illness, and to learn new skills for living well. This is the third of its kind in Canada, as two have been operating in Ontario for some time now. Gessell says former executive director Jordan Friesen was the catalyst to getting the college up and running.

“(Jordan) was a visionary for the recovery college,” says Gessell. “Recovery Oriented Practice (ROP) is basically flipping mental health services on its head. Canadian Mental Health Services still uses the medical model but they're also embracing the recovery model. The medical model is very evidence-based while recovery is a value-based model, meaning it's about people deciding and choosing what is good for themselves.”

The educational content offered at Thrive will help students learn about and improve their own mental health in a self-directed manner. The staff will do their best to help along the way but the courses offered are not seen as a substitute for professional assistance. Everything offered is free at the college, and there are many different courses that are offered including Finding My Voice, Focus On Physical Health, and Building My Skills. 

“We actually received at $10,000 cheque from Bell Let's Talk,” says CMHA-Central Region executive director, Kyle Berg. “They were generous enough to make the drive out to Portage and hand over the cheque at our open house (Wednesday). We're all really excited about how everything has been turning out here since we made the switch.”

Courses run from 11 a.m. - 12 p.m. and 2-3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Thrive has courses that pretty much speak to everyone as students can come in and describe what they're looking to improve upon. Employees at the college will then lead students through a value checklist which helps direct them to a course.

Gessell adds it's about breaking the stigma around mental wellness and illness and Thrive hopes people will recognize that it's a safe place to come, and with that, reduce the stigma of mental illness. 35 people have enrolled since the college officially opened and Gessell expects that number to continue growing.

Learn more at their website https://central.cmha.ca/thrive/

Not a traditional college 

Thrive Learning Centre is not an accredited college, so courses are not intended to be applied towards college or university programs. Thrive aims to assist participants on their journey to recovery and is more in line with mental health psychoeducation than career preparation.



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