Last week I attended the 15th Annual George Brown College Mental Health Conference here in Toronto. The focus for this year’s conference was ‘Post-Secondary Student Success: Fostering Mental Health and Wellness on Campus’. The fact that the conference reached its maximum capacity speaks to just how important the area of student mental health has become. For a breakdown of the conference and some of the themes that were addressed I would encourage you to check out the conference hashtag on Twitter under #GBCMHC or read the Storify of my tweets from throughout the day. Here are three things from the conference that stood out to me.
1. Student Panel Discussion: Think about the ‘5 in 5’. It was quite refreshing to hear directly from students during a panel discussion. The panel featured two current students and two recent graduates who discussed some of their experiences with mental health difficulties and what could be done to create healthier campuses. One panel member noted the importance of institutions not simply focusing on the 1 in 5 people who experience a mental health or addiction issue. Focusing instead on the ‘5 in 5’, which stems from the Jack Project, means that each and every person needs to be aware of their mental well-being and institutions should keep this in mind when developing their mental health initiatives.
2. There is A LOT of work being done to address student mental health.Conferences are an opportunity to see what new initiatives and research projects are being done in the field you’re interested in. With this in mind, I often feel a bit like a kid on Christmas morning when I get a glimpse of new and exciting projects related to postsecondary student mental health. At the GBMHC, I heard about projects that addressed both peer mentoring and technology-based mental health information/support.
Peer Mentoring. In one session I attended called ‘Engaging Student Leadership: Putting Students at the Forefront’ I heard about the M² Peer Mentoring Program coming out of Queen’s University as a result of funding received through the Mental Health Innovation Fund. The purpose of this program is to match students who have mental health difficulties with a mentor who has gone through an intensive training program. There seems to be an increasing number of mentorship programs being established on campuses province-wide and this is likely due to research that suggests students are more likely to seek support from peers prior to seeking professional support. I think this highlights the importance of not only educating faculty and staff regarding student mental health difficulties but the student body as well. Each and every student should arguably have a certain amount of mental health literacy so that they are equipped to support a peer in a time of need and able to direct them to the appropriate services.
Provision of Mental Health Information/Support using Technology. An emerging area in mental health relates to using technology to provide information or support related to mental health. Interestingly, an online student mental health portal called iCopeU was discussed and an online space called mindyourmind was mentioned. Presenters shared the success that these resources have had so far and emphasized that students have been co-designers in these projects. Some audience members seemed skeptical of the use of technology in addressing mental health, but I would argue that we have only started to scrape the surface of where this area can go in the postsecondary environment. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to check out the abovementioned programs and consider how your institution uses technology to provide information related to mental health or support for mental health difficulties to students.
3. Using a Whole-Setting Approach. The keynote speaker Jonny Morris (Director, Public Policy, Research, and Provincial Programs at the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C) discussed the Healthy Minds/Healthy Campuses initiative and showcased a video called “Designing Healthy Campus Communities.” The video speaks to the importance of a whole-setting approach to mental health. Morris suggested that singular, one-off, individual focused responses to mental health done in isolation are not as impactful as whole-setting approaches. It is increasingly important that work is done collaboratively amongst various stakeholders in order to support student well-being and subsequently, student success.