“I always wanted to help others. Helping people with mental health disorders, or just struggling with mental health, is why I wanted to study psychology.”
Brayden Pitcher (BSc ‘20) does not have an easy job, but the impact he makes daily is enough to remind him why he does what he does. It’s Monday, and already Brayden has talked someone down from a mental health crisis and helped another suffering from psychosis. A man is experiencing withdrawal symptoms that are manifesting strongly, and Brayden is the one who responds, ensuring the client is safe and as comfortable as possible. He remains level-headed and kind, remembering to speak to those around him with the respect he would like to receive. “When I first met the clients, a lot of them didn’t know my name. Many still don’t. I made a big nametag for myself. But I had to work to build that trust and rapport. They want to feel they are more important than a label.” With his large nametag and a treasure chest of background knowledge gained through his psychology studies, and the additional extensive training required for the job, Brayden understands that the trust of his clients is a gift and honour. With his compassion and insight, Brayden earns the trust of those he works to serve.
After graduation, Brayden found work at the Southern Alberta Self Help Association (SASHA), where he’s worked for almost a year. SASHA is an organization that offers support to individuals suffering from mental disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia, as well as those with addictions. Brayden explains, “It’s for those who aren’t able to live on their own and need help. With supportive living options and individualized services, other amazing staff and I help teach and guide clients in learning basic living skills like laundry and cooking. We also help people get off the streets, learn to live with roommates and cope with their mental disorders.” At SASHA, Brayden’s role is to support and counsel clients and help them however he can with creating goals, taking their medications, or whatever is needed.
“Learning about disorders is completely different than directly helping people who live with these disorders. Working with clients has been impactful for me. You don’t see disorders regularly manifest as often or severely as you learn about in books. Many people struggle to live with their disorder independently, but you couldn’t tell this from the outside. I’ve built a lot more respect and understanding for people who have these mental disorders and work with them step by step with their goals and living situation. Many want to change their lives, but with their disorders, it’s hard for them to remember what they need to do, or filter through everything going on in their head to function in a way that we call normal.”
For two years directly after high school, Brayden volunteered in Australia, where he solidified his passion for serving others.“I served as a missionary while I was in Australia. A lot of the work we did there was helping people, and a lot of the result of helping people was improved mental health. I knew I wanted to keep doing this, and psychology was what I wanted to do.” Thanks to his life-changing experience, Brayden felt grounded and ready for university. “I had a little more discipline than I would have had if I’d come straight out of high school.”
While at the University of Lethbridge, Brayden completed an independent study that focused on depression. He also completed two applied studies and his honours thesis volunteering at the Accommodated Learning Centre, comparing students' university experiences without learning disabilities to those who have learning disabilities. Psychology professor Jennifer Mather supervised his applied studies and honour’s thesis, and Brayden describes her as a massive support. “She’s helped me with my writing skills, research skills, my presentation and communication skills. I would not be where I am if it was not for her,” he says.
These opportunities solidified Brayden’s passion and taught him to see things from a new perspective. “There is a lot of improvement for universities to support students with disabilities. Many of these students with disabilities can do anything anybody else can do without disabilities, especially when supplied with accommodations to give them equal opportunity. The students I’ve met who have participated in my research are so worthy and capable of being in university,” he explains. Brayden started his advocacy work by looking within first. “A lot of my research and experience studying has been advocating for students with learning disabilities. I think in the past, my perception was ignorant. I didn’t think very much about people with mental health issues and, in some way, subconsciously put myself above them. But researching this has helped me break through any preconceived stereotypes.”
He hopes that all students facing challenges gain the support they need to find success at university. “The most important lesson that I learned, in my own experience, is that you’re going to face a lot of moments of discouragement and moments where you can’t see yourself succeeding. But I’ve found that that’s normal and okay. It just means that you care as a student. Giving up is not the way to overcome the struggle. Keep going. I’ve found that our moments of immense growth happen right after those discouraging moments.” Brayden remembers defending his honour’s thesis and being nervous. But standing in front of the department heads, presenting his research was his most memorable academic moment. “That was when I felt the most accomplished as a student. Being able to reflect and see how far I’ve come and put it all on the line in one research presentation in front of the department. It allowed me to see myself as an accomplished student.”
While academics were important, the people he met, including his wife, were the most significant part of his uLethbridge experience. “Do your best to build relationships and connections with classmates and professors. Connections have helped me become a successful student, supplied me with research opportunities, and study buddies to help with difficult classes. You will always be able to find a student who knows something you don't. We are naturally social people so just studying in the presence of others helps,” he says. Brayden is interested in psychiatry and plans to continue working toward medical school or a master's in counselling. “I always wanted to help others. Helping people with mental health disorders, or just struggling with mental health, is why I wanted to study psychology.”
After graduating last October, Brayden hoped to spend a year travelling with his spouse to Mexico, Vietnam, and Laos, her family’s home. When COVID made those plans impossible, Brayden didn’t hesitate to look for work, and at one point, he held five part-time positions, including his job at SASHA. While his travel plans weren’t possible this year, he knows there is travel in his future.