The mental health crisis in Canada’s young adults is creating pressure on university mental health services, which are now reaching a tipping point, says Dr. Anne Duffy, a psychiatrist and full professor at Queen’s University, who studies student mental health.
Dr. Duffy is principal investigator in a new suite of projects to intervene early and promptly to help the mental health of young adults at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, as well as the University of Ottawa and Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She plans not only to address backlogs and long wait times, but also to study the interventions to see how well they are working.
The Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada announced funding for these projects, to reach more than $700,000 over three years. Queen’s University acknowledged the funding at an online event held November 16, 2020 (see video below).
Research at Queen’s – Answering a global call for student mental health services
“These projects are a great fit for the foundation’s mandate to support mental health research,” said Dr. Christopher Carruthers, chair of the foundation. “They target mental health in young people, at a point in their lives when timely intervention can change life trajectories.”
There are three specific projects involved. The first is for students who have clinical anxiety or depression and are asking for help. It will provide these students with a “care pathway” called U-Flourish, involving a multi-disciplinary team of social, psychological and medical providers. Patients and health care providers will use an online platform called i-Spero, developed in the UK, which has been extensively studied and proven useful in improving patients’ mental health.
The second is designed for students feeling stressed and experiencing problems with sleep, anxiety, etc., but not at the level of clinical depression or anxiety. The interventions in this project involve self-help on digital platforms, to help students help themselves, guided by online suggestions and feedback.
The third objective is to develop a for-credit university course on the neuroscience of the developing brain in young adults and the biological, psychological and social underpinnings of mental health. The course, to be offered online at Queen’s, is intended to promote “mental health literacy” as well as improve well-being, diminish stress, and encourage positive changes in behaviour among students taking it.
Dr. Duffy notes that mental health appointments at Queen’s University’s student health services are up 73% over the past five years (while enrolment has increased only 13%), and 43% of physician appointments are now related to mental health. She hopes these projects will take some of the pressure off university health services and get students to the help they need faster.
The projects will be accompanied by research to learn whether these approaches are feasible and effective. If so, they could be used at other universities across Canada, helping one of Canada’s most important resources — our young adults — achieve good mental health.
For more information: Research at Queen’s – Answering a global call for student mental health services
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