Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

StFX part of study researching effective campus mental health programs

December 8th, 2016
L-r, psychology professors Dr. Kara Thompson and Dr. Erin Austen, education professor Dr. Chris Gilham and Health, Counselling and Accessible Learning director Margie McKinnon

Determining what mental health programs are effective on postsecondary campuses and what needs to be in place to build mental health literacy is something a team at StFX will be researching closely over the coming months as part of an innovative study looking at what mental health programs work on university and college campuses.

The recently announced Pathway through Mental Health Care for Postsecondary Settings is a three-year project led by Dr. Stan Kutcher, a Halifax, NS-based renowned expert in adolescent mental health, and is supported by over $600,000 in funding from Medavie Health Foundation

It’s aimed at building on proven youth mental health components to create, evaluate and disseminate an effective campus mental health framework.

StFX is one of five participating institutions in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island that will field test the framework, which is hoped will serve as a model across Canada and internationally.

Leading StFX’s team is Health, Counselling and Accessible Learning director Margie McKinnon, education professor Dr. Chris Gilham, and psychology professors Dr. Erin Austen and Dr. Kara Thompson.

“There’s much excitement around this initiative,” says Dr. Thompson who was at the recent project launch.

With high rates of mental health issues and awareness coming to the forefront in recent years, and a felt need on how important good mental health is for success in postsecondary education, it’s exciting they say to be able to communicate and collaborate on pathways forward.

Approaches to campus mental health in Canada are fragmented, many lack evidence of effectiveness and are often focused on mental health awareness/promotion rather than improving mental health literacy and care.

The first year of this project will focus on modification of existing resources, development of new resources and field testing of interventions as part of the development cycle, the StFX team says. The second and third years will focus on application and evaluation of the interventions on the chosen campuses.

Currently the StFX team is designing a method of implementing the Pathway tools on campus and will be looking for student input as they figure out the best way to deliver mental health literacy to students in a way they would most learn from.

Ms. McKinnon says each participating campus in the study will be coming up with their own ways to develop the tool on their campus, and will share that information along the way.

As well, they will be evaluating for effectiveness.

While a lot of mental health initiatives already exist and are having positive impact, a key difference to this study they say is that it will measure impact, and it will increase the knowledge capacity of the entire community – students, faculty and staff.

In September 2017, the team will be inviting incoming first year students to participate in a research study. They say there will be much opportunity for students to participate and give input along the way as they develop this study.

“It’s exciting,” Ms. McKinnon says. “All this work helps break down barriers, and we hope it will lead to increased mental health literacy in the StFX community, help-seeking behavior in people who are experiencing difficulties, and compassion towards people who are experiencing mental health problems.”

 

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