Students look to understand male mental health

Studies researching first-year male students’ substance use and abuse

From left: Mike Young, Weston Sobel and Terry Krupa.
From left: Mike Young, Weston Sobel and Terry Krupa.
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After receiving a $1.7 million grant last year from Movember Canada, Queen’s students and researchers have teamed up through the Queen’s Caring Campus (QCC) project to develop an action plan that’ll raise awareness about the link between excessive substance use and mental health and illness, specifically in men.

Researchers Heather Stuart, a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences; Terry Krupa, a professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy; and Shu-ping Chen, a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Health Sciences, were awarded the grant as part of the project. The research team appointed a group of 24 student leaders as spokesmen for the project’s initiatives.

Movember funded the Queen’s project as a pilot program to use at other Canadian universities, which Krupa said “gives us the opportunity to be creative and take risks”.

The team is focusing on the substance use patterns of first-year male students so that they can create a support system that’ll help these students work towards healthier substance awareness throughout university.

The program is using joint research- and intervention-based initiatives in order to determine the best possible ways to reach out to students in need.

QCC student leader Weston Sobel said the students appointed as leaders are a diverse group with a range of experience with mental health issues, spanning various faculties, ages, cultural backgrounds and interests.

The student leaders have been developing a forum-based website for students to discuss their issues with substance use and abuse with a community that shares the same concerns or experiences. Students will be able to post anonymously, which is something Sobel, ArtSci ’17, said will help students “feel secure and know someone is out there trying to help them”.

Student leaders have also discussed hosting events and working on policy development to encourage students to focus on healthy substance use patterns. Sobel also said social media will also be an essential tool to raise awareness.

“We understand the culture, we understand [substance use] is part of university life,” Sobel said.

He said the project’s focus isn’t to eradicate substance use from campus, but rather to help students become aware of their limits when using certain substances and encourage them not to depend on or use substances as a way to escape personal problems.

“We want to create different events where people know the main focus is not drinking so that people will be able to connect with others who have similar interests in common other than just ‘we both drink’,” Sobel said.

Sobel said the group’s policy discussions were inspired partly by the death of Terry Trafford, who committed suicide in March shortly after being suspended from his Ontario Hockey League team. Trafford’s father, Roy, told Global News his son was suspended after being caught smoking marijuana.

Sobel believes there should be more policy developed to “create a structure to deal with these issues”, especially within athletics.

Rector Mike Young has been involved with facilitating policy discussions with Athletics and Recreation and the Residence Society.

“Things haven’t been 100 per cent operational yet,” Young, ConEd ’15, said.

“We want to make sure our programs are all fine-tuned before they roll out.

“[The discussions are] certainly not outlining a list of consequences or how to police. It has been more about identifying the issues that exist with the policy and if there are any improvements to be made,” he said.

Young added that he’s noticed a new attitude from the AMS about policy development.

“[They’re] looking to be more constructive this year in response to criticism of their system where in past years when they’ve been more defensive,” he said.

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