Resources and tools can help students build healthy minds, the first step toward academic success.
Stress and anxiety are as synonymous with university as midterms and essays.
But a growing body of research says that these feelings can make it harder for students to learn and to succeed in school.
In a 2009 National College Health Association survey, 40 per cent of UBC students reported that stress negatively affected their academic performance, 30 per cent were affected by anxiety, and 16 per cent by depression. The results led UBC to make student mental health a priority, with the ultimate goal of giving students the best chance at academic success.
“There is a move towards integrating mental health promotion into practices across campus,” says Patty Hambler, a student development officer who is helping to organize UBC’s annual Thrive Week, a series of events that encourage healthy living.
Now in its third year, Thrive will highlight mental health as the central theme during outreach and activities taking place October 17-21. Thrive aims to teach the UBC community how to build resiliency and prevent mental health concerns. It will also provide information about the programs, supports and services in place at UBC to promote mental well-being.
Hambler says, “There is a growing motivation to talk about mental health on campus.”
This is a trend that Michael Lee, a curriculum coordinator for UBC’s Masters of Occupational Therapy Program, has noticed too. Five years ago, as part of a class assignment, he and a small group of students started holding information sessions about the prevalence of mental illness and its impact on student life. These sessions were limited to students studying occupational or physical therapy but interest grew quickly.
“Studies have shown that students find it much easier to learn and hear about mental health from other students,” says Lee. “The stigma surrounding mental health makes it a difficult issue to talk about.”
Last year, Lee’s class project became the UBC Mental Health Awareness Club, a campus-wide AMS club with the mandate to raise awareness about mental health issues and decrease the stigma around mental illness.
The club now has more than 100 members and is run by co-presidents Victor Tang, a graduate student studying neuroscience, and Kevin Ly, a fourth year Arts student majoring in international relations and geography.
For Thrive, the Mental Health Awareness Club is hosting a movie event. “We’re showing clips from movies that portray mental illness and then discussing the issues shown,” says Ly.
Another initiative the club is working on this year is a campaign, called the “One in Five” campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the prevalence of mental illness.
Ly and Tang will present facts about mental illness and profile individuals from a variety of backgrounds who have experienced mental illness.
“One in five Canadians will develop some form of mental illness in their lifetime,” says Tang. “We want to reduce the stigma by helping people understand how prevalent it is.”
“If you break your arm, you go to the doctor,” says Lee. “People experiencing mental health issues won’t do that—they isolate themselves. As society grows more aware, those who need help will be more likely to open up.”
Mental wellness across campuses
For the first time, UBC’s Okanagan campus will also hold Thrive.
“We are promoting positive mental health for all, meaning students, staff and faculty at both campuses,” says Tracey Hawthorn, a work re-integration and accommodation program coordinator and a Thrive coordinator in the Okanagan.
At both campuses, mental health promotion is a growing priority of Focus on People, UBC’s Human Resources strategy. Hawthorn says it’s not just students who need to build mental well-being—a view echoed by Suzanne Jolly, health promotions coordinator for UBC Human Resources.
“Faculty and staff can’t promote student mental health if they aren’t looking out for their own well-being,” says Jolly. “They need to take care of themselves in order to help students and role model healthy behavior.”
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