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Promoting self-care for World Mental Health Day

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Oct 9, 2020

Category: UNB Fredericton , UNB Saint John

In recognition of World Mental Health Day, the University of New Brunswick is highlighting a few of the various ways our instructors have promoted wellness and self-care practices within various course offerings across our campuses over the past year.

World Mental Health Day is a campaign created by the World Health Organization (WHO) that takes place every year on Oct. 10 to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health.

With COVID-19, the lives of Canadian students have been impacted in various ways — whether it be through adapting to alternative delivery methods of learning or having decreased access to support networks, such as family and friends. Many students are also workers whose jobs may have been economically impacted or have family members who have felt various effects as well.

This year’s World Mental Health Day focuses on increasing funding for mental health. Investments can include improving access to critical services and enhancing individual wellbeing such as self-care.

The WHO defines self-care as the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider. With the understanding of self-care expanding, a number of UNB faculty members are taking steps to include the study of theory and strategies of this practice in their academic programs.

One course that has received a lot of great feedback from UNB Fredericton students is Entrepreneurial Resilience, which is offered through UNB’s Technology, Management and Entrepreneurship (TME) program. While it has previously been offered as a graduate course, it will now be open to undergraduates as well.

The course, taught by Matthew MacLean, UNB mental health strategist, and Rachel Clarke, program coordinator of TME, allows students to develop and expand critical and necessary skills for resilience.

“Each week, we give students assignments that require them to engage in self-care,” says Mr. MacLean. “This could mean learning how to respond more productively to stress, ensuring they’re getting enough time in nature or making time to nurture the important relationships in their lives. With the pandemic, we will add a focus on responding to the challenges of isolation, working from home and managing the uncertainty and anxiety of our times.”

At Renaissance College in Fredericton, instructor Andrea Ruehlicke teaches a course called Concepts of Personal Well-Being. “For our final assignment, I ask students to create and execute a plan to enhance their personal well-being,” says Dr. Ruehlicke.

“They are able to choose from one of the five dimensions of well-being that the class covers, such as emotional, physical, social, spiritual or intellectual, that they want to improve on,” she adds. “They will then create a plan for developing these dimensions and carry out that plan for a two-week period.”

In the faculty of arts on the Fredericton campus, there is a one-term course entitled Arts Lab: Essential Skills. The course provides an introduction to the nature of university education and is designed to help new students better understand the learning process and acquire essential academic skills, including research and writing skills.

The instructor, Megan Woodworth, says that this course helps students ease into the transition of university, including developing a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation, which can help students deal with setbacks and receive feedback constructively.

“We look at planning and talk about balance between schoolwork and life and will talk about self-care and stress reduction,” says Dr. Woodworth.

On the Saint John campus, Julia Woodhall-Melnik, assistant professor of sociology, taught a course last winter on mental health, addictions and wellbeing. The course, which is typically offered every other year, requires students to participate in a series of wellness activities and then write a reflection paper on their experience.

“I ask the students to discuss how their social position impacts the way that they view the field of wellness and to think about the ways that their social identity or status impacts their ability and willingness to engage in these activities,” says Dr. Woodhall-Melnik. “I also ask them to think about the social determinants of health and how privilege can impact their ability to participate in wellness activities.”

Kathleen Mawhinney, senior teaching associate in the department of nursing and health sciences at UNB Saint John, is the course coordinator for a concentrated fourth-year clinical practicum this fall. One requirement for this course is that students must identify three professional learning goals that they hope to achieve during their time in the course.

“This year, I asked the students if they would like to make one of their goals about their own personal wellness and the student’s response was very positive,” says Ms. Mawhinney. “Clinical practicums entail eight-hour shifts at the hospital, not including the preparation students must do the night and day before. These practicums can be stressful for students, so having each of them think about and create a personal wellness goal for themselves will hopefully help them achieve some balance in their lives.”

In two of Moira Law’s psychology courses at UNB Saint John, she prioritizes time at the beginning of every live Teams session for students to check in on how their week is going while providing an opportunity for them to share their struggle of the week.

“I then offer one evidence-based practice that they can incorporate into their days to help manage their stress and fatigue,” she says. “Week one was to get their sleep; last week I encouraged them to get outside; and this week I asked them to turn their face to the sunshine.

“There is an evidence that states students have reduced stress with more options and will also engage in more course work if given more options,” she adds. “For my courses, aside from mandatory quizzes, students can pass in as many options as they like, and the top marks will be used.” She says that she’s had a lot of positive feedback from students on this approach.

If the global pandemic has highlighted anything it is that self-care is an important part of day-to-day life. These stories are merely a snapshot of the long list of UNB faculty members who are ensuring that their students are meeting their needs. UNB students are not only supported, but they will be able to take these skills with them and thrive.

Media contact: Angie Deveau

Photo credit: Jeff Crawford