Donut worry! Sharing strategies to boost student attendance for mental health initiatives

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 25 May 2017.

Mental health is hard to talk about. For most people, it is still not something that is openly discussed, even with the great strides being taken to change this. For international students this is even more apparent as many come from countries where it is never discussed, acknowledged or validated – and they can face additional challenges such as adjusting to a new culture, learning environment and way of life.

The goals we set ourselves at the International College of Manitoba (ICM) are:

  • To normalise talking about mental health in any setting;
  • To ensure students know what resources are available to them if they need help;
  • To create a multitude of platforms that will pique the interests of a variety of personality types;
  • To encourage student-led participation and dialogue;
  • And, ultimately, to equip students with the knowledge and resources they need to achieve optimal mental health.

Sharing our practices

Sharing practices is important as it helps ensure we all continue to provide the right resources that students need to succeed. Below are some effective strategies for supporting student mental health from the International College of Manitoba:

  • In-class presentations
    A two-hour presentation on safety, wellbeing, mental health, consent, alcohol use and available resources is run by Student Services, in conjunction with the Student Support Case Managers at The University of Manitoba. The presentation is run in a class that is mandatory for all new students at ICM and we encourage students to share and engage in dialogue in an open, safe and respectful environment. Following these presentations, we’ve often had students come to us afterwards to open up, which is a really positive outcome.
  • Resource 101 lunch hour workshops
    By the second week of classes, we hope students have grown more comfortable with being on the campus and in classroom spaces. So in week two, we hold two Resource 101 workshops and invite students to come and learn about all that is available to them both on and off campus to ensure an ease of transition. The first workshop uses ‘Schedule A Documents’ which includes a list of resources for students, such as on and off campus counselling, crisis counselling, campus safety, and emergency procedures. The second workshop uses ‘Schedule B Documents’, which provide a more comprehensive list of resources including doctor and medical clinic info, food banks, family planning resources, transportation information, religious group information, where to buy grocery and foods from back home, etc.
  • Special Lunch Hour Events
    We hold a range of lunchtime events and inform students who attend about available programs. In January each year, we use resources provided by Canadian Communications Provider Bell to participate in ‘Let’s Talk Day’. Another event this year drew a crowd of 70 students to a short presentation on mental health where cake and hot chocolate were provided and students wrote what mental health means to them on speech bubbles to be displayed around the college.  A similarly well-attended event was ‘Donut Worry!’ staged around the midterm exam period, which provided an hour of relaxing with friends, hot chocolate, doughnuts and colouring pages.
  • Ongoing, 24/7 counselling service
    The International Student Support Program (My ISSP) connects our students to professionals specialised in ex-pat counselling for students with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It connects them instantly via multiple methods including an app, virtual chat, video connection, phone call or face-to-face. Most of the calls to My ISSP are made after college business hours and over the weekend and there has been great success with this program. Read more about its implementation in Canadian colleges.
  • Training for all frontline staff
    All members of the Student Services team receive off-site Mental Health First Aid training. The course consists of an overview of common mental health diagnosis, how to relate and work with students with these conditions, information on crisis intervention and suicide prevention, as well as self care practices.

Here are some of the great initiatives shared by those who attended the online webinar I presented on student mental health:

  • The global H&S Incident Reporting Form is being used to capture incidents that occur to students and staff, and this data will help inform where resources are applied. If you work in a student services or administration role, please bookmark that link and make sure to log any incidents, such as hospitalisations, in your area.
  • Brisbane students at ACAP and HSA have responded very well to a mindfulness program. A student counsellor goes into classrooms in the first week to start conversations about the impact of study and transitioning to a new identity, how to practice mindfulness and ways they can connect to additional mental health resources.
  • Brisbane ELICOS students can participate in a small community of LGBT students. A safe space has been created where students can talk, and watch and discuss Gaycation – a series by Ellen Page that explores what it is like to be LGBTQI in different countries around the world.
  • Melbourne students at SAE hear about mental health services alongside other student services during Orientation. In a further effort to normalise services around mental health care, they have had great responses when they talk about other students on campus who are already accessing these services.
  • Half-day mental health workshops for staff in Australia who work with students have been successfully run in the past, through HR Services’ assistance, and another round will happen soon.

While there can be a number of conditions that students can be diagnosed with, the important thing to remember is that everyone, regardless of the diagnosis can live a life with optimal mental health. At ICM we strive to make optimal mental health and self care part of everyday. The key is to educate, support, and provide students with the resources they need to reach this optimal health goal.

To continue the conversation about initiatives to help improve student mental health, contact Melissa Mushikori, or share your thoughts and ideas via YammerTwitter or LinkedInWatch Melissa’s Play Again where she shares strategies that can boost the impact of mental health initiatives.