A new mental health initiative by four University of Manitoba (U of M) students is helping Winnipeggers fight the isolating psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Listening Ear was created just a few weeks ago by four students in the U of M’s President Student Leadership Program. The students are visiting high traffic areas across Winnipeg this summer and fall in order to listen to whatever people want to talk about.
“We’re wanting to offer that much-needed human connection,” said co-founder Kevin Prada, an undergrad psychology student at the U of M. “We’re setting up shop with these red t-shirts and an a-frame. sign and basically just greeting people with a kind ‘hello, how are you?’ and inviting people to come talk to us.
“If you want to talk about the amazing Bomber win last night, let’s talk about that. If you want to talk about some of the struggles that have been going on in your life, let’s talk about that. And what we do is we actively listen, and that’s all we do.”
It’s all an effort to help people get over the isolating effects of the pandemic, and to get them used to talking in person again. Prada says the idea came about after the students realized that in addition to English they could speak another eight languages among the four of them. “What an amazing opportunity it would be to be able to give folks the opportunity to engage in their own language,” he said.
The group has only gone out a few times so far, to locations such as Assiniboine Park and St. Vital Park. They plan on being at The Forks Sunday, August 7, 2022 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm and will be on campus at the U of M when students return in the fall.
For those who need more than just a listening ear, the group offers a QR code handout with links to various community-based mental health supports.
The response has been positive so far. Prada says the encounters are a little strange at first, but everyone they meet walks away with a smile on their face.
“We even had some people from out of province saying ‘we’ve never heard of anything like this, we would love to have this in our province!’ So this really is a new initiative and we hope that it’s going to be perennial for years to come.”