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Working to improve Canada's mental health

Heather Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair at Queen’s, has increased her focus on connecting people with resources.

Heater Stuart speaks about mental health to an audience in Mitchell Hall
Heather Stuart speaking about mental health to an audience in Mitchell Hall in 2019.

Every year on Bell Let’s Talk Day, it’s clear that the movement to end the stigma against mental illness has come a long way. It’s also a day when the Queen’s community can take pride in Heather Stuart, Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Chair, who has played a key role in this national movement.

Throughout her career, Dr. Stuart has committed herself to raising awareness about the damaging effects of stigma. While she’s still active on that front, she has also started taking on more projects that connect people with mental health resources.

“Over the past year and a half, my research has included more practical implementation than before. I’ve been working on ways to help people find the resources they need. While we still have work to do on stigma awareness, as a society we also need to think about what steps to take next,” says Dr. Stuart.

Supporting students and the military community

One of Dr. Stuart’s major projects over the past year has been a partnership with Queen’s, IBM, and the Department of National Defense. This project is creating an app to help members of the military address feel more comfortable addressing mental health concerns. When using this tool, military personnel and their families can have confidential, anonymous conversations with an AI interface. The AI will then make recommendations about next steps, including potential treatment options, such as recommending that someone consider approaching a mental health professional or their family doctor.

Dr. Stuart has also been actively working on supporting the mental health of post-secondary students. Along with Queen’s post-doctoral fellow Brooke Linden, she has been working to evaluate a tool that helps students develop resiliency. Called Surviving to Thriving, this pilot project provides students with a workbook that helps them identify mental health resources available to them. Surviving to Thriving was initiated by the Canada Life Assurance Company, which plans to spread the tool across Canadian universities.

With Bell and the Canadian Standards Association, Dr. Stuart has been part of a large team tasked with developing and evaluating voluntary standards for post-secondary student mental health. This will establish criteria that post-secondary institutions can adopt to ensure that they are meeting the wellness needs of their students. Dr. Stuart is on both the steering committee and the evaluation committee for this project.

Still challenging paradigms 

On top of her implementation work, Dr. Stuart is keeping up with her ongoing anti-stigma research. Recently, she has signed contracts to produce two books for Oxford University Press. One will be a collection that she is editing with a colleague from the University of Calgary. In this book, various contributors will reflect on the past ten years of anti-stigma work in Canada.

Her other book project is a sequel to her landmark study Paradigms Lost. Published in 2011, this book upended many common conceptions about stigma and how to fight it. Its sequel, Paradigms Lost and Paradigms Found, will explore what’s on the horizon for stigma reduction.