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Student workshop encourages mental health disclosure in UCalgary community

Psychology grad students Samantha Jones and Tessa Neilson develop resources to address gap in mental health programming


Tessa Neilson, left, and Samantha Jones expand UCalgary mental health programming with new student workshop. Riley Brandt

By Lauren Phillips
November 14, 2017

I think I need help...five of the toughest words to think, and to say, for many people. Being vulnerable and talking about mental health concerns can be difficult because it means opening up, sharing your personal self and admitting you might not be able to do it all on your own. For students, having those conversations with authority figures like professors, supervisors, or employers is even harder.  

Selected for funding in the 2017 Campus Mental Health Strategy grant cycle, Negotiating the Unspoken Component of Mental Health Disclosure: A Workshop for Students addresses the lack of resources for students attempting to navigate difficult conversations with authority figures in the campus community.  

As University of Calgary students in the Psychology Graduate Program, project leaders Samantha Jones and Tessa Neilson recognized a gap in current mental health programming. “As the talk of mental well-being in students increases, especially among our grad student peers, we noticed students seem to struggle with communicating their circumstances and needs to someone that could be considered a ‘boss’,” Jones and Neilson explain. 

“When a student may be struggling, their needs change. It can be a difficult conversation because you may feel vulnerable, not know what or how much to say, or even what to ask of the other person. We see this as a major challenge for students opening up and talking about mental health because there are very few resources to guide this process.”  

After conducting personal interviews with students who have disclosed mental health concerns, Jones and Neilson will develop an evidence-based workshop to bridge the gap and provide students the resources they need for positive conversations about mental health.  Coupled with pamphlets and online resources, the two hope their program will change the conversation about mental health by reducing stigmas and ensuring the UCalgary community has access to information on disclosure. 

Although this workshop targets students, Jones and Neilson believe encouraging students to be more open to discussing mental health and asking for the resources they need will benefit the campus as a whole. “These conversations have two sides. We hope that as students talk about their experiences, we can develop positive responses from those they are sharing information with to better address what the student actually needs,” say Jones and Neilson. 

“Initiatives supporting the Campus Mental Health Strategy are important because mental health concerns are not an uncommon experience, especially in undergraduate and graduate student populations. By making the development of resources a priority, we’re supporting a healthier campus environment where students can focus on learning.”  

To learn more about this project, or to share your experiences disclosing mental health concerns, contact Samantha Jones and Tessa Neilson

Do you have a great idea to make our campus more caring? Applications for the next cycle of funding open in spring 2018.  

Negotiating the Unspoken Component of Mental Health Disclosure is one of eight 2017 Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS) grant winners. The Campus Mental Health Strategy Grants were created to get our community thinking about how they can foster positive mental health and wellness, and help build a supportive environment, through their own big ideas. Visit the CMHS website for more information on grants.