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Student mental health in the age of COVID-19

Queen’s experts and Bell Let’s Talk host campus community for virtual session on mental wellbeing.

From left to right: Moderator Jane Philpost and mental health experts Anne Duffy, Brooke Linden, and Heather Stuart.
The session, moderated by Dean of the Faulty of Health Sciences Jane Philpott featured Queen's mental health experts Anne Duffy, Brooke Linden, and Heather Stuart.

For months now, tuning in to the news has meant unleashing a deluge of coverage about the coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to keep informed, we watch the experts — health care leaders, academics, journalists, politicians — discuss and debate COVID-19 effects on our lungs or hearts, our economies, our education; our day-to-day routines.

Last week, a panel of Queen’s University experts hosted a virtual discussion with hundreds of Queen’s students and community members about another, lesser-discussed impact of the pandemic: the toll it is having on our mental health.

The discussion — organized in partnership with Bell Let’s Talk and moderated by Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences Jane Philpott — was wide-ranging, touching on how to spot common signs of mental health issues, social stigma, and how families and friends can help one another when these struggles arise. Panel experts also highlighted available resources and shared some best practices and tips for taking care of our mental health and how to manage through the most difficult moments.

“Stigma is one of the major challenges people face when they experience mental health challenges. They can fear it more than the illness itself and it can prevent them from seeking help,” says Heather Stuart, panelist, professor, and Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair at Queen’s University. “Social support is vital to us as human beings, so it’s important to reach out and to have people reach out to you. It’s not a sign of weakness to have to rely on others for support, especially in the context of COVID-19.”

Dr. Stuart, whose research focuses on mental health services evaluation and destigmatization of mental illnesses, was joined on the panel by Anne Duffy of the Department of Psychiatry’s Division of Student Mental Health, as well as Brooke Linden, a postdoctoral research fellow with Queen’s Centre for Health Services and Policy Research Institute.

“We know from established evidence that we seem to be creatures on a clock. We do better — our brains, our bodies — if we’re on a rhythm,” says Dr. Duffy, who specializes in understanding the development and early course of mental illness in young people. “Even though our whole lives have been changed by the pandemic, we need to work to keep ourselves in a routine; waking up at a certain time, going to bed at a certain time, and regular cardiovascular exercise are very important for gaining and maintaining mental wellness.”

Currently, Dr. Duffy is working with colleagues at Queen’s and Oxford universities to develop an international collaborative network of mental health research called U-Flourish, focused on studying well-being, academic success, and mental health needs of university students. She urged Queen’s students in attendance to fill out the U-Flourish survey, which was emailed to all students on Sept. 21, to share their experiences in managing mental health during the pandemic with her team of researchers.

“In times like these, it’s all about communication and flexibility,” says Dr. Linden, an expert in stress and psychiatric epidemiology. “If you suspect someone close to you is having trouble with mental health but may be resistant to seeking professional help, try to meet them where they are. While therapy is an option, a lot of people can be hesitant to pursue it at first, so share with them that there is a wide range of resources available for wide-ranging needs.”

Learn more about available mental health resources in Kingston and at Queen's on the event page, and if you missed the panel discussion you can watch it below.