U-Flourish research works to support student mental health

Survey uses rigorous research methodology to get results

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
U-flourish uses logitudinal studies in research.

The U-Flourish Student Mental Health Research program is composed of researchers at Queen’s seeking to understand how to support students’ mental health and well-being.

U-Flourish started in 2018 with a $30,000 grant, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry Anne Duffy said in an interview with The Journal. Duffy is a clinical psychiatric consultant and the acting headof the division of student mental health at Queen’s Student Wellness Services (SWS).

“The importance of the U-Flourish survey, as opposed to all the other surveys that you might have seen as a student, is that this is actually using rigorous research methodology,” Duffy said.

The program employs a student engagement team, capturing current and incoming university students by tracking their opinions using biannual surveys. The survey looks at the impact of mental health on timely circumstances, such as the pandemic, Duffy noted.

“For 25 years, I’ve been the lead investigator in a study that longitudinally followed children at family risk for developing serious mood disorders,” Duffy said.

“These children have parents with bipolar disorder, and they were at high risk for major depression or bipolar disorder themselves.”

When Duffy came to Queen’s in 2018, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences Richard Reznick asked if she would get involved because of her interest in youth mental health. Duffy and Stephen McNevin, assistant professor and founding director of the division of student mental health worked together to begin U-Flourish’s research work. 

Considering the children at high risk of developing their parents’ disorders, the study was originally branded as “Flourish,” according to Duffy. 

“The reason for that was because even though these children were at higher risk for developing serious mental illness, most of these children did really well.”

“We were also looking at not only what were the early indicators of problems, but we were looking at what we could do to augment well-being and protect those children and reduce the risk,” Duffy said.

After that, Duffy took the brand and made it “U-Flourish” to look at the same kinds of mental health issues within university student populations. The survey began with questions crafted to be straightforward.

“At the beginning, it was [asking] what is the scope of need? Can we use rigorous methodology to measure what sorts of well-being and mental health concerns students have? Can we look at the evidence and measure theoretically important risk and protective factors? What’s driving some of this need?”

Among other related questions, the survey was designed as a “digital conversation” with students to translate their needs into evidence-based resources. 

Duffy said U-Flourish was able to secure a second round of funding before receiving interest from the Rossy Family Foundation to invest in the survey.

Thanks to a philanthropic gift from the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation, U-Flourish has expanded and introduced additional initiatives to enhance student well-being andmental health.

According to Duffy, the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation came to the team and expressed their interest in the research. Based on the survey data, the foundation asked them to translate the findings into real resources to help students today. After looking at the evidence, Duffy wrote a proposal to take a stepped-care model that would benefit everyone.

The model follows a structure where everyone benefits at the base and as you go up the tier, less and less students would need these resources, Duffy said.

“Then we would have a digital well-being platform that would be a student facing app that students could use to monitor their well-being.” 

Duffy explained the team created a course in collaboration with the course development unit in the Faculty of Health Sciences. The course, IDIS 199, is adigitally integrated, inclusive, mental health literacy class.

“We’re hoping that the tool will again improve emotional self-awareness, facilitate  transitions to support when needed, and provide education about supporting one’s own well-being,” Duffy said.

The evidence-based course focuses on the true meaning of mental health and well-being, as well as asking questions about what we knowabout the developing brain, what happens when we overuse alcohol, and differentiating between distress symptoms and illness.

According to Duffy, the six-module course is very popular among students. She spoke to the stigma and barriers of accessible mental health at Queen’s.

“We do measure reuse validated measures of all these constructs.”

Explaining the concept further, she said the program uses the stigma subscale of the barriers to care evaluation, looking at three levels of stigma: stigma, attitudinal barriers, and practical barriers.

“Stigma is still present, but lower than you might expect amongst the student body, what is high, is the personal attitudes about one’s own mental health that become barriers.”

“You’re going to feel stressed, and that’s normal,” Duffy said. “If you get early help with distress, you can mitigate and prevent more serious problems, like school dropout, depression, and significant anxiety.”

With files from Asbah Ahmad 


Mental health, Research, Student Wellness Services, SWS, uflourish

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Queen's Journal

© All rights reserved.

Back to Top
Skip to content