Doctor of Philosophy
Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
Irwin, Jennifer D.
The purpose of this dissertation was to assess mental health among students, as well as innovative interventions designed to provide tools to cope with the mental health challenges of stress and anxiety while building resiliency. Three distinct, yet related, studies were conducted. Study I: This academic-year-long pilot study explored senior students’ (‘mentors’; N= 30) experiences interacting with first-years to build resilience via physical activity (PA) and mentorship. Mentors’ psychosocial experiences were tracked via qualitative interviews and validated questionnaires at pre-, mid-, and immediate post-intervention. Inductive content analysis revealed the program’s positive influence on PA, resilience, and mental health; and some added stressors. One-way, repeated-measures ANOVAs indicated few statistically significant findings regarding participants’ levels of resilience, behavioural control, and positive affect. Study II: This mixed methods pilot study investigated graduate students’ (n = 11) experiences in an 8-month peer coaching program. Participants’ psychosocial experiences were assessed via individual semi-structured interviews and validated questionnaires (BRS, MHI, SF-36) at pre-, mid-, and immediate post-intervention. Inductive content analysis revealed peer coaching as having positively impacted participants’ ability to cope with stress and anxiety, and enhanced resilience. One-way, repeated-measures ANOVAs indicated no statistical significance for any of the questionnaires/surveys. Study III:Through the distribution of three campus-wide surveys/questionnaires (i.e. BRS, n= 598; MHI, n= 619; SF-36, n= 696),information was gathered about the current state of mental health and wellness, and resiliency among undergraduate (UGS) and graduate students(GS). Focus groups were conducted to enhance and put in context the quantitative information. Both UGS and GS indicated more services are needed to address mental health, with a need for more counsellors. PA positively affected mental health and resilience for both groups. The need for easier/increased access to PA was voiced.
The findings from these studies have demonstrated that while GS experience some different stressors than UGS, and that they would prefer to access mental health-related services in an environment separate from UGS, both groups: (a) struggle with stress and anxiety; (b) voiced the need for more counsellors; and (c) described PA and peer-coaching/mentorship as benefitting their mental health and resilience.
Summary for Lay Audience
Mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, are prevalent – and rising – on university campuses, affecting both undergraduate (UGS) and graduate students (GS). Resilience, an important building block of mental health, is the ability to bounce back from, and adapt to, difficult situations. Thus, this thesis assessed mental health among university students, as well as creative interventions designed to provide tools to cope with stress and anxiety while building resiliency. Three distinct, yet complementary, studies were conducted. Two studies used (peer) mentorship, which has been successful at providing mental health benefits as well as increasing resilience. In Study I, 30 senior students (mentors) interacted with first-years to help increase the first-years’ resilience, which was done via mentorship and PA. The impacts on the mentorswas the focus – their levels of mental health, resilience, and engagement in PA all increased. In Study II, 11 GS participated in a peer coaching program created from motivational interviewing, Co-Active Coaching tools, and mentorship. This approach had participants work in pairs (acting as a peer coach/mentor for each other) to help one another create solutions to their own issues, instead of receiving advice. Participants described peer coaching as beneficial for their mental health and resiliency. In Study III, a total of 598-796 UGS and GS completed three questionnaires, and 30 engaged in focus groups/interviews. The results helped to assess the current state of mental health and resilience on a university campus and demonstrated that both cohorts struggle with stress and anxiety. While GS described differing stressors than UGS – and a desire for mental health services that were available at a separate location from UGS – all students described feeling stressed and anxious, and that PA and peer support were beneficial to their mental health and resiliency.
Although GS experience some different stressors than UGS, and they would prefer to access mental health-related services separately from UGS, both groups: (a) struggle with stress and anxiety; (b) want more counsellors; and (c) described PA and peer-coaching/mentorship as benefitting their mental health and resilience.
Fried, Rebecca R., "Breaking Under/Grad - Assessing and Addressing Stress, Anxiety, and Resiliency Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students via Motivational Interviewing and A Smart, Healthy Campus Intervention" (2019). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6506.