ETS | Guardian angel at university

To prevent psychological distress among students, which has increased since the pandemic, the École de technologie supérieure has hired a local worker to act as a bridge between youth and support services. Press followed him in the afternoon.


Rose* sits across from speaker Kevin Phaneuf, who listens intently.

The student shares his recent frustrations with him as a friend.

“When I have a problem, I’ll talk to Kevin about it and we’ll find a solution,” he says.

There is no leather chair in his office. Students do not have to fill out a form at the entrance. They come through the door at any time of the day and talk to him about their big or small problems.

As of September, the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) is hiring an outreach worker – a service unusual among universities.

Its role: to integrate into the student community to facilitate access to support services.

Think special educators in high schools… but with a university client. (Kevin Phaneuf himself worked in the school system for years.)

It’s all about building trust.

Sarah Décarie-Daigneault, Deputy Director of ÉTS Success Support Service

To achieve this, Kevin Phaneuf spends his days with students. He takes an interest in their school projects, attends barbecues, and plays volleyball with them at lunchtime.

He is the guardian angel of ETS.

“My office is almost casual. “Most of my interventions are, no matter where you are in school and you have a problem, you write to me and I go there,” he says.

Front line service

“Student Life Services has wanted to establish a local intervention service for a long time,” explains Sarah Décarie-Daigneault.


PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, PRESS ARCHIVE

Sarah Décarie-Daigneauult, Deputy Director of the ÉTS Success Support Service

Last winter, the venture received funding from Bell Let’s Talk and the Rossy Foundation, which allowed it to finally create the new resource.

The hiring of Kevin Phaneuf is timely. Since the pandemic, the needs are even greater.

Between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, the psychological support service saw a 50% increase in the number of students seeking help.

The increase in demand was especially noticeable in the winter of 2022: the number of consultations for the same period increased by 130% compared to the average of the previous three years.

More disturbing: the anxiety level is also higher.

During the interview, Kevin Phaneuf slips away for a few minutes. A student just wrote him a letter. He is not well.


PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, PRESS ARCHIVE

Frontline service is also part of Kevin Phaneuf’s job, answering calls around the clock, including evenings and weekends.

Frontline service is also part of his job. When a young person has an emotional crisis, they are usually the ones called upon. Students can also contact him at any time. Even at night and on weekends.

“I was in a crisis one time and he answered me at 7 in the morning,” Rose said. In emergencies, Kevin Phaneuf “welcomes boredom and assesses whether there is a suicidal risk.”

MI Décarie-Daigneault estimates that at least 15% of students seeking psychological support have suicidal thoughts.

“Students often come with great difficulty. When they ask for help, they stay straight,” he says. Therefore, he advocates the importance of prevention.

Prevention

Kevin Phaneuf descends into the basement of the building. He has a meeting with the university’s competitive video game club.

The students in charge of the club surveyed their members about their lifestyles to improve their performance.

The result: many of them do not sleep enough, eat poorly and spend a lot of time on social networks.


PHOTO MARCO CAMPANOZZI, PRESS ARCHIVE

Kevin Phaneuf with students from the École de technologie supérieure’s competitive video game club

One student says, “I can’t sleep without a video. “I’m just like you,” replied another.

The atmosphere is relaxed.

Between the two jokes, Kevin Phaneuf explains the mechanism of addiction and suggests they contact a nutritionist. Purpose: to raise awareness among students through preventive measures and to direct them to appropriate resources when necessary.

We study in an engineering school, 80% are boys. Counseling is not their first instinct.

Sarah Décarie-Daigneault, Deputy Director of ÉTS Success Support Service

But they can talk to a familiar face.

“Applying to the school’s psychological help service is scary. There, we are in a club with people you trust,” said Sebastien Hirth.

“All the Differences”

Before Kevin Phaneuf came along, Rose was “crying every week.” He consulted a psychologist, but it was not the same.

“Environmental intervention, I think, makes all the difference. That’s what we need, someone who understands our reality as students on the ground. »

*To protect the privacy of her discussion with Kevin Phaneuf, Rose is identified only by her first name.

A model to follow

What if other universities were inspired by this? Laval University also added an outreach worker to its faculty. However, such a resource is not available in all enterprises. The University of Montreal has over 45,000 students, compared to 11,000 students at ÉTS. “It’s an idea we’ve already evaluated, but due to the size of our campus, we haven’t been able to move forward. It wouldn’t be possible for us to have just one person,” said university spokeswoman Geneviève O’Meara. Instead, the facility opted for trained “watchmen.” Spontaneous requests for help are welcome. Guided by the desire to “offer a local safety net” to students, the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM) has set up monitoring stations on campus and peer assistants who stay in residences and with students. The size difference between the two institutions “will make it difficult to apply the same model” as at ÉTS, emphasizes Caroline Tessier, director of communications services at UQAM.

Need help?

If you need support, are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about a loved one, call 1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553). A suicide prevention worker is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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