Louise BrownThe Toronto Star
Date Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
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From uplifting quotes and tips on where to get counselling, to sharing selfies of random acts of campus kindness, a Brock University Facebook page created by students has won an unusual new contest for mental health awareness.
Brock’s recent four-week mental health campaign called Cope-Care-Connect — with a bustling Facebook page at its heart — has taken first prize from among Ontario’s 21 universities for a student project aimed at helping students reach out for help with mental health problems.
“A lot of kids out there who are having mental health issues don’t want to talk about it because they’re embarrassed and scared — but we want to let them know that talking about it can help reduce the stress,” said Kaitlyn Kerridge, 23, a third-year student in community health sciences, whose class designed the “Cope- Care-Connect” awareness campaign, including the Facebook page.
She and classmates designed a campaign logo with sunbeams to symbolize positive change, sent out upbeat tweets to help students feel good about themselves, created four YouTube videos with tips on dealing with anxiety, a self-help booklet with coping mechanisms and a quiz to help students evaluate their current level of stress.
Taking ‘selfies” of helping others is just a way to encourage students to connect with each other, she said.
“Students face all kinds of stress — academic stress, social stress, financial stress,” said Kerridge, “but our campaign was about more than just managing stress. We want to give students tips for getting help and building resiliency against mental health issues.”
The campaign, run jointly by the Council of Ontario Universities and the Ontario government, is the latest move by the post-secondary sector to tackle growing concerns about rising levels of anxiety and mental health problems among students, some of which have led to suicides on campus.
The contest encouraged students to dream up ways to use social media to help students talk about mental health problems and reach out for help, said Council President Bonnie Patterson.
“We know that young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group, and universities are working to ensure that students are aware of resources and support networks available to them,” she said.
University of Waterloo students Kristin Brown and Stephanie Lu won second prizes with a Facebook site called Stand Up To Stigma.
“With Waterloo’s focus on co-op programs and STEM subjects (science, engineering, technology, math), many students are highly driven and competitive and can feel that talking about stress and mental health is a sign of weakness,” said Brown, 25. “We realized there were students who are struggling who weren’t getting the help they need.”
Both Brown and Lu, now PhD students in public health, experienced mental health issues in their own families and circles of friends during their undergraduate years at other universities, and said they believe campuses can be doing more to help such students.
Their Stand Up To Stigma campaign, also based on a Facebook page, features testimonials by students and staff about the need to be open about mental health, and directed students to an array of support services.
Since starting the program two years ago, Lu said it has become much easier to have students take part in motivational photos for the Facebook page, and few if any now request anonymity, suggesting the stigma on mental health problems is in fact on the wane. Nearly 1,000 students have “liked” the Facebook page.
“We also have noticed that all students running in the last election (for the student association) had a mental health platform as part of their campaign,” said Lu, 24. “That never happened before. It’s a sign of a real shift in attitude.”