U-Flourish bridges gap in mental health literacy

New digital platform strives for healthy balance in student wellness

New mental health literacy course opens to students of any background. 
Supplied by Anne Duffy

This article discusses mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

U-Flourish is a multidisciplinary group of researchers partnered with Queen’s Student Wellness Services (SWS). In 2018, they began conducting an online survey to better understand how to support students’ mental health and well-being.

Anne Duffy, U-Flourish’s principal investigator, is excitedabout the new initiatives U-Flourish has implemented to improve mental wellness accessibility for students.

Duffy told The Journal that in 2012, Queen’s published a report on mental health strategy under the principal’s commission after a number of student suicides.

“[The report] […] ended up saying there’s a huge gap in services and supports to support students’ mental health, which hasn’t kept pace with the increased need,” Duffy said in an interview with The Journal.

According to Duffy, this “increased need” comes from a few places, one of them being age.

“Most mental illnesses onset between ages 15 to 25 and 30,” she said. “Students are coming to university, they’re leaving home, they’re taking new responsibilities, their brain hasn’t fully developed—it’s a time of accelerated brain growth.”

While most students make the transition relatively well, Duffy said there are a number that exhibit clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression in the first few years of university.

“[Students] are away from home often times, studying away, so they don’t have the same care pathways and support that they would through their family.”

The report also showed several existing initiatives didn’t cover the “spectrum of need for students,” Duffy added—including mental health literacy and supports for coping with stress.

One of the first actions taken by the U-Flourish team was forming IDIS 199.

“We developed a fully integrated online mental health literacy course called the Science of Well-being, Mental Health, and Resiliency,” she said. “That’s a one-semester, four-credit course, interdisciplinary across programs for students in first year to take.”

Aside from targeting mental health, the course focuses on the different cultural perspectives, historical contexts, and practical skills and abilities involved in managing mental health.

The second initiative Duffy and her team took on—in collaboration with Oxford University—is creating a digital well-being resources platform called i-spero, which allows students to monitor their mental health.

“[i-spero] provides access to digital resources to help [students] improve their sleep, manage stress, and also healthy eating,” Duffy explained.

i-spero is embedded into SWS. Through the program, students can track their well-being status and mental health symptoms.

“The system will also signpost students based on their entries, and say ‘hey, it looks like your symptoms have improved’ or ‘it looks like your symptoms are getting worse’, and ‘maybe these are things that you should considering doing,’” Duffy added.

“It empowers students in their own care.”

In collaboration with Agnes Etherington Art Centre, U-Flourish has also formed an art activity group called Art Hive. According to Duffy, the group allows students to drop in virtually and de-stress through creative expression.

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