A round-up of mental health initiatives on campus

Students enjoying the Engineering and Applied Science Health and Wellness Day in April 2015

What is mental health?

Queen’s Health, Counselling and Disability Services (HCDS) staff use the mental health continuum model in their mental health literacy and anti-stigma training across campus.

The mental health continuum

The mental health continuum model, developed by the Department of National Defence, recognizes that mental health – like physical health – lies along a continuum. In the green zone, one experiences healthy and adaptive coping; in the yellow, common and reversible distress. Orange signifies more severe, persistent injury or impairment, and red, clinical illnesses and impairments that require concentrated medical care. The model shows that we all have variations in our mental well-being and that, at each level, there are resources to promote health and reduce disruption.

Awareness. Anti-Stigma. Response.

In addition to other HCDS educational programs, trained staff from HCDS, Residences and Human Resources now deliver a regular three-hour workshop on mental health awareness, anti-stigma and response. The workshop, open to Queen’s students, staff and faculty, helps participants understand how they can support and assist someone in distress, and when to refer someone to professional resources. They also learn the four basic steps of mental health support:

  • Approach: It is OK to ask questions, express concern and offer to help. Be specific about the behaviour that worries you. Avoid guessing what you think the problem is.
  • Listen: Be patient and give the person lots of time and your undivided attention. Listen without passing judgment. Validate their feelings.
  • Support: Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings in a compassionate way. Offer hope. Reassure the person that you are concerned and want to help.
  • Refer: Provide the person with information about the resources that are available to help them. Offer to assist the person make the call for professional help. Even though you are concerned, avoid trying to force the person to get help.

The training delves further into how to make a good referral and discusses the resources available at Queen’s and in the Kingston community. The program also provides tools to address stigma in everyday situations. Since last September, more than 250 members of the Queen’s community have taken the workshop.

Journal pushes boundaries of military health research

The first issue of the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) has launched an academic journal, the first publication of its kind in Canada, to disseminate the work of researchers, policy makers and program developers in this research field. A jointly led initiative of Queen’s University and Royal Military College of Canada, CIMVHR currently partners with 35 universities across Canada. The Institute acts as a channel for the academic community, government organizations, industry and similar international organizations to address the health and well-being of military personnel, veterans and their families.

Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health

Academic Accommodations Project

This joint venture between Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College is a three-year provincial research study to identify and address the difficulty of academic accommodation planning for students with mental health disabilities. With funding from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, the goals of the Academic Accommodations project are to develop:

  • province-wide documentation standards, taking into consideration the specific needs of students with mental health disabilities;
  • training for students, faculty, disability advisers/counsellors, student leaders and administrators on how best to accommodate students with mental health disabilities;
  • an information and resource handbook for Ontario students with mental health disabilities.

The project team, led by Dr. Mike Condra of Queen’s, will present its final results in June.


In March, the Jack.org Queen’s chapter teamed up with the Tea Room on campus to "sleeve the stigma behind." Coffee cup sleeves on beverages sold on the second-last week of classes had this reminder: "Talking about mental health? Don’t mocha big deal about it." The sleeves also encouraged caffeinated students to #java good day.

From darkness to light

Imagine a video game for kids in which a little boy has to navigate a dark, scary mansion by himself. With help from a magical hat, Arthur begins travelling through the mansion’s dark corridors, chasing away monsters, lighting lamps, and doing puzzles as he goes – and he does it all with a beam of light emanating from his head. The catch is that the child playing the game must use his mind, rather than a traditional video game controller, to control that beam. In doing so, the player also learns techniques to help improve his own mental health.

A screenshot from the MindLight video game

While it may sound like something out of science fiction, the game not only exists, it’s already having a positive impact on kids struggling with anxiety and depression. The game, called MindLight, is designed to teach children how to control their negative thinking and focus their attention with techniques like relaxation and mindfulness. The player operates the game with help from a special lightweight headset equipped with a sensor that rests on the forehead. The child must then use brainwaves to control the on-screen play. Just by focusing one’s attention, a player can, for example, turn on a ceiling light or chase away a threat.

Associate Professor Tom Hollenstein (Psychology), who is running controlled trials to test the game’s effectiveness, says that while treatments like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), often work well to change the unhelpful thinking and behaviour present in conditions like anxiety, it can be difficult to get children to engage in the process. "In order to benefit from the skills they are being taught, kids have to practise them while they are feeling anxiety," he says, explaining that MindLight puts them in challenging situations they can only conquer by learning to focus and relax.

With the first randomized trial in the Netherlands now complete, Dr. Hollenstein says the game, which he hopes will one day be available for home use, is proving to be as effective as CBT in helping children with anxiety. "Kids are learning how to bring light to where there is darkness, and they get a sense of success when they do."

The Caring Campus project

Pictured (l-r), students Andrei Lyskov, René Puerta, and Josh Decaire are among the Caring Campus Project team of male students working to improve mental health as it relates to substance use, particularly for first-year male students.

Young men are particularly vulnerable to substance misuse linked to mental ill health during their first year at university. Research shows they experience more stressors during their transition from family life to independence, and are more likely to use substances to relieve stress, anxiety or depression. This may place them at higher risk for mental health problems, mental illnesses, suicide and substance abuse disorders. Led by Queen’s researchers Heather Stuart (Public Health Sciences), Shu-Ping Chen (Public Health Sciences) and Terry Krupa (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and funded by Movember Canada, the Caring Campus project uses a multi-level intervention, including student-led initiatives, to reduce misuse of drugs and alcohol in male university students.

Learn more at caringcampus.ca.

New teaching strategies for mental health law

The legal and the medical professions often clash when it comes to the rights of patients experiencing mental health crises. Which takes precedence, a patient’s autonomy or his medical needs?

Prior to 2012, Queen’s medical students learned about suicide risk assessment by clinical psychiatry teaching faculty. Separately, they learned from law professors about the Ontario Mental Health Act, which governs psychiatric assessment and committal. Since then, law and psychiatry faculty at Queen’s have collaborated on
a joint teaching approach, one that shows medical students how the law establishes clear boundaries for clinical practice. Within those boundaries, doctors are empowered to make the best medical decision in the interests of their vulnerable patients.

Lynne Hanson (Law), and Renee Fitzpatrick (Psychiatry), lead the session with second-year medical students every April. Presented with case scenarios, the students work in small groups to develop a management plan for the patients. Ms. Hanson and Dr. Fitzpatrick then model decision-making in each scenario, enabling the students to consolidate the legal requirements for involuntary admission and apply them to their medical decisions.

With colleague Shaimaa Abo-El Ella (Psychiatry), these professors have written about their innovative approach in "Inter-disciplinary teaching strategies for mental health law." The article was recently published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry.

Relax…you got this!

Activities at the Health and Wellness Day included complimentary 15-minute massages

Staff at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science invited their students to kick back and relax before April exams. Activities at the faculty’s Health and Wellness Day included yoga, a visit with therapy dogs, complimentary 15-minute massages and free healthy snacks and exam care bags for students. Guest speaker Richard Hayward, Sc’01 (Engineering Physics), talked to students about the importance of maintaining a life balance while studying engineering, as well as in the workplace.

New division proposed to address mental health and addictions

Every year an estimated one in five Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem – and having either a substance use or a mental health problem significantly increases the likelihood of having the other. The university-aged population faces the greatest risk of experiencing the onset of such problems.

One reason for the increasing number of students on campuses with mental health problems is that advances in diagnosis and treatment are enabling more people who deal with such issues to attend university. For those who begin to experience problems after they arrive, stigma reduction campaigns – spearheaded by Queen’s and other institutions – are making it easier for them to come forward for help.

A key recommendation of the Principal’s Commission on Mental Health is to create a Division of Student Mental Health and Addictions within the university’s Department of Psychiatry. The new division would help address the increasing mental health and addictions problems of students at Queen’s and have the potential to collaborate with other Kingston post-secondary institutions and possibly high schools.

"We will never have enough psychiatrists on staff to provide all the treatment needed by students with mental illness," says Dr. Roumen Milev, head of the Department of Psychiatry. "But by conducting initial assessments and regular follow-up consultation with family doctors – whether at Queen’s or through family health teams in Kingston – our psychiatrists could contribute to the treatment process, functioning as an integrated part of the team and service continuum."

In addition to providing direct clinical services to students, the proposed new division – to be funded through the Initiative Campaign – would conduct research into student mental illnesses and the usefulness of different treatment approaches and evaluations and would help train future doctors and other mental health professionals.

Stressed? Let’s go for a walk!

Chloe the dog

ASUS Lost Paws, a student-run organization on campus, held its popular Critters on Campus event to help Queen’s students de-stress before exams. For $2, students could enjoy a cuddle with a dog; for $5, they could take a dog for a walk. In three days, the group raised $970 for the Kingston Humane Society.

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Download Spring 2015