Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Improving mental and physical health

November 8th, 2022
Dr. Chris Gilham leads a class of StFX education students

Contributing to our Health -- A Series About StFX Research Making A Difference In Our Communities

StFX is a leader in health innovation and entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia. In this ongoing series, we proudly shine a spotlight on our health research leaders, research and community health partnerships and their impact. For more on the Contributing to our Health series, click the link below.

Contributing to our Health series

 

“Overall, the work I do could be seen as prevention and health interventions. Increasing mental health literacy and helping young men seek help when they need it are both associated with improved health outcomes,” ~ Dr. Chris Gilham

Dr. Chris Gilham is an associate professor in the StFX Faculty of Education who teaches courses on inclusion, mental health literacy, critical research literacy and the philosophy of education. He is researching mental health literacy of educators (SSHRC), and boys-specific groups for developing healthy relationships (supported by Nova Scotia Status of Women) and has done research to evaluate school-based programming that could help disrupt cycles of domestic violence.

Could you tell me a bit about your research program?

I am involved in developing and evaluating school-based work related to student and educator mental health literacy, including those in the process of becoming teachers, and boys-specific programming aimed at improving their health outcomes, and the health outcomes of those around them, especially their current and future partners. Overall, the work I do could be seen as prevention and health interventions. Increasing mental health literacy and helping young men seek help when they need it are both associated with improved health outcomes, for examples.

What drew you to health research?

Since a very young age I have had immediate family experience with severe mental illnesses. I’ve been an advocate most of my life for improved mental and physical health. My undergrad degrees were in psychology and philosophy and when I entered the teaching profession, I was quickly drawn towards working with students with mental health problems and mental disorders, which I did for several years. I ended up supporting school-based administrators and educators in their direct work with students with these needs. My graduate work was borne out of a desire to move more upstream in this work, and reach those becoming teachers, as well as those already working in education. I have always found actionable programming directly with students and educators to be very edifying work. Now that I can do some evaluation work, with support of colleagues on and off campus here, the reach of this work can be broader and more impactful.

What impact has this research had or what do you hope it will have?

The mental health literacy work I’ve been a part of has consistently increased educator’s and student’s knowledge, reduced stigma and even increased help-seeking attitudes. In one study, pre-service teachers also reported increased self-efficacy for inclusive practices in classrooms. More than 15,000 people worldwide have participated in the free online modules known as Learn Mental Health, which I helped create in partnership with Western, UBC and teenmentalhealth.org (now known as mentalhealthliteracy.org). The work I’ve been involved with for girls programming increased girls’ key developmental assets, and most recently an evaluation of GuysWork showed decreases in adherence to unhealthy masculinity norms. I’m really proud of these outcomes! The goal of the work is improved mental and physical health now and long term!

Could you tell me a bit about yourself and any accolades and accomplishments?

I’ve been privileged to be connected with what I believe to be giants in these fields. These connections were more or less handed to me, so I feel very lucky. (StFX education professor) Dr. Andrew Foran connected me to Senator Stan Kutcher back in 2013 when I started here at X. That has led to research I never thought I would be doing and am completely grateful for. Senator Kutcher then introduced me to Moe Green, founder and developer of GuysWork. Again, being a part of the work Moe does and learning from him has been an outstanding experience. The Advisory Committee on the Status of Women here in Nova Scotia have also completely supported our work – they are true champions for making a difference! I also should thank a cold call I received from Stephanie Ruckstahl who asked me if I wanted to join her team and NBCC in St. Andrew’s to apply for a significant SSHRC grant to develop and evaluate girl’s specific programming. That turned out very well and jumpstarted my research career here at X. Since tenure I’ve been more focused on my two key projects and that has allowed me to keep pace and do my parts on the teams I work with. I think this is important for those entering the profession to keep in mind, if they don’t already do so; keep focused and don’t eat all the candy in the candy store, as it were, to quote the amazing (StFX education professor) Dr. Joanne Tompkins.

How did you become a researcher?

I took a couple of grad courses at the U of Calgary in my mid-thirties and seriously questioned if I was competent enough to do graduate work. After those two courses I knew I could achieve my goals of getting a PhD. As for getting PSE work, well that was amazing timing, too and now, ten years on, I’m really pleased and excited with the work I do through StFX. I’m still learning about research, for sure. During my sabbatical I audited a couple of our undergrad stats classes in psychology and the health programs here at X, to brush up on my quantitative skills. Lots yet to learn yet but very thankful for those colleagues who supported me in those courses!

What excites you or what do you enjoy about being a researcher at StFX?

Once I discovered and set my boundaries around the teaching–research–service requirements, and set goals within my two main research areas, my days have been extremely rewarding. I love working with interdisciplinary teams dedicated to these topics, getting out in the field and seeing the work in actions, meeting with participants, learning as much as I can, all the while being supported by folks here at StFX including senior administration, research office, finance, IT, etc. Despite my many questions and requests, people are patient and helpful. I am supported by many and that helps me focus on the exciting work!

What’s something surprising about yourself that people wouldn’t know?

In our house, we are super nerds about anything Star Wars related!

Start Your Journey