The Inquiring Mind Post-Secondary training goes countrywide

According to the 2016 National College Health Assessment Survey of Canadian post-secondary students, almost half the respondents reported feeling so depressed in the past 12 months that they found it difficult to function.

It’s no wonder that campuses across the country are struggling to meet the growing demand for access to mental health services.

“We know that 75 per cent of mental illnesses begin between the ages of 16 and 25,” said Louise Bradley, president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). “We also know that the transition to post-secondary education can be a stressful one.”

“When these two realities collide,” added Mike Pietrus, director of the MHCC’s Opening Minds anti-stigma program, “you have a perfect storm of need. These kids are rolling onto campuses, and not only are they unequipped to manage their mental health, they may not even have the right words to describe what’s wrong.”

Enter The Inquiring Mind Post-Secondary (TIM PS), a three-hour anti-stigma and resiliency workshop pioneered by the MHCC and the University of Calgary, that was adapted from a similar program (The Working Mind) used for employees and managers.

TIM PS educates students about their mental wellness using proven techniques, like the Mental Health Continuum Model, which puts everyday descriptions of mental health signs across a four-colour scale: green (healthy), yellow (reacting), orange (injured), and red (ill).

“You eliminate the scary diagnostic language,” said Pietrus. “You’re telling people they can talk about mental health in really simple terms and make themselves understood.”

Even though the program has just wrapped up its pilot phase, the appetite for TIM PS is growing exponentially. Since the eight participating schools first embraced the approach — which allows anyone affiliated with the school to also take a three-day course to become a trainer — 20 others have committed to offering the program. As of October 2019, close to 4,000 students have successfully completed TIM PS.

“Our evaluations show that this program significantly increased participants’ resiliency skills. Not only does it equip students with the tools and skills to better support themselves, it also shows them how to look outwards and support peers with their well-being,” said Andrew Szeto, PhD, an associate psychology professor at the University of Calgary and the director of its Campus Mental Health Strategy.

But aggregate data doesn’t tell the whole story.

For Matthew Baker, an applied psychology candidate at Laurentian University with a degree in kinesiology, the program offers some really practical options: “I thought it was particularly good to encourage students to seek help before they are in significant distress. I also thought providing actual strategies to help reduce school stress — from the facilitators and other participants — was extremely helpful.”

Bradley recalls her own experiences with mental health difficulties when she was studying for her master’s. “This was many moons ago, and it was an extremely progressive psychology professor who intuited how shattered I was, after losing my best friend to suicide, and insisted that I get help. I was one of the lucky ones.”

Pietrus is convinced that, in this day and age, introducing mental health literacy on campus should not be considered progressive. “It should be the bare minimum.”

Or, as Bradley puts it, “post-secondary institutions aren’t just places of academic learning, they are where we experience exponential personal growth. And learning to build resiliency and manage mental wellness is just as important as making the grade in literature or mathematics.”

For more information about The Inquiring Mind Post-Secondary, visit theinquiringmind.ca