A Queen’s research team has received a $1.7 million grant from the Movember Canada organization, spurring a three-year research project that will examine substance use in first-year male students.
Movember, a men’s health organization, has set aside $12 million in funding for mental health initiatives, submitted by research teams across Canada.
Seven projects were funded under this initiative, one of which was spearheaded by a team of three Queen’s researchers.
Heather Stuart, a professor in the department of community health and epidemiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Shu-ping Chen, a post-doctoral fellow in the same department, and Terry Krupa, a professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, comprise the team awarded the funds.
Funding from the grant will cover many aspects of the project, including staffing, operational funds for summits, student activities, technical development and first-year male student surveys.
Four components of the research portion of the project include examining social norms, contact-based education and a mental health promotion model adapted for substance use.
“When you think about the … the patterns of behaviour that are established in first-year university, they’re the kind of things that can follow you throughout your life,” Stuart said. “If we’re letting young men learn to misuse substances, by virtue of some of our own activities, our orientation activities [and] their misperceptions about what they should be doing … it will, it could affect their mental health.”
The project will begin on campus but will also extend to Dalhousie University and the University of Calgary.
“We thought it might be a good idea for us to target young men in their first year coming into universities because that’s a time when they have a lot of different social pressures,” Stuart said, emphasizing the importance of education to prevent substance abuse.
“A second component is contact-based education,” she said. “That happens when somebody who’s experienced a problem educates their peers about it.”
The third component involves a “substance use continuum model” that evaluates health-based on behaviours.
A proposed smartphone app would allow users to locate their place on this continuum and find tips, in an attempt to promote healthy behaviours.
“So people don’t have diagnostic labels, they have colours,” she said. “You’re green, you’re healthy; you’re yellow, you’re starting to get into a problem area; orange, high risk; and … red is going to be where you have a significant illness or substance abuse problem.”
As another component, summit gatherings will allow the project to expand its reach beyond the individual level, she added.
“When you have a summit, you take student thought leaders from different schools, you put them together in a room and you educate them using all of these techniques, including contact-based education,” she said.
Stuart says the research also has the potential to apply to a broader audience.
“If it works in three universities, it should work in every university. So you could see that something like this could have huge impact across the country, and elsewhere even, because it could go beyond Canada,” she said.
“At the end of three years, we should be able to say to the world: ‘if you want to address substance misuse in your young men, in your university population, here are the things you need to do.’”
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