HELPING STUDENTS ARRIVE AND THRIVE
As demand for mental health services among postsecondary students reaches unprecedented levels, many schools are taking a preventative approach and developing programs to help students ‘Arrive and Thrive’ as they make the often rocky transition to college or university.
Arrive and Thrive is the name of an 18-month project at Hamilton’s McMaster University designed to examine patterns of stress and coping behaviours among its students. Funded by the provincial government’s Mental Health Innovation Fund (MIHF), the program has attracted students impaired by mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder but also those who wanted to destress or learn coping skills.
“This is different from treatment,” says McMaster psychologist Dr. Catharine Munn. “This isn’t a cure for all that ails you; this is just something to try on for size to see if you like it and to see if it helps you.”
One program offered through the initiative, for example, teaches mindfulness, meditation and stress management. Another connected students with a counsellor to assess and discuss their use of substances, including reasons for use and motivation to change their use. Students could also take part in nature walks. CHALLENGING TRANSITION
The transition top postsecondary is challenging for numerous reasons, including the stress of moving away from home and the cost of earning a diploma and/or degree. “The stressors are different for many of today’s students,” Munn says. “They have part-time jobs and there are a lot of things they have to do to make themselves competitive in the job market and to get into grad school or professional school.”
At the same time, they’re in a period of developmental challenges. “Most mental health problems begin before the age of 25…and this is the time when most people in North America find themselves in school,” says Munn.
In Sarnia, Lambton College is working with students well before they even step foot on a college or university campus. “Our program specifically targets students in the transition mindset to help them prepare for the world they’re going to be entering,” says professor Charlene Mahon, faculty advisor on the college’s Let’s Face It program (also funded by the MIHF).
As part of the multi-faceted program, teams of Lambton students visit area high schools and deliver presentations to open the conversation about mental health and to discuss stress and healthy means of coping. “From my own experience, I know the transition can be very hard,” says team member Austin Noble. STORIES OF SUCCESS
He had a “strong support system” but was “definitely stressed” when it came time to accept an offer of admission to a pre-service firefighting training program. Leaving his family and friends “was one of the hardest times in my life…I didn’t know anybody at Lambton and was very homesick.”
When his girlfriend broke up with him by text on the first day of class, Noble retreated to his room. He credits a good friend from home with listening and giving him the encouragement he needed to “get back on track” and return to things he loved, like making friends and exercising.
The Lambton team visits high schools at key times: when students are contemplating post-secondary choices, after receiving their marks from first semester (which could impact their offers of acceptance) and as they near graduation.
“The purpose is for (high school) students to realize they’re not alone. There are students who are just ahead of you and this is how they navigated the waters,” says Mahon. (Lambton will follow students who were part of Let’s Face It in high school to see if the program makes a difference over the long term.)
Let’s Face It also includes initiatives for Lambton students, including activities and workshops that focus on stress relief and building a community of support, as well as student-to-student mentoring to help students build strength and resilience.
Visit the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health at www.campusmentalhealth.ca to learn about other initiatives.