A mental health tool kit for millennials

Waterloo student launches social startup with a mental health kit that engages a generation used to getting advice through tweets, tips and sound bites

By Heather Bean

Marketing and Strategic Communications

Share

Before Tina Chan began her Health Studies degree at the University of Waterloo, she had never pictured herself as an entrepreneur.

“I had zero interest in entrepreneurship before I connected with the Waterloo community,” Chan laughs. “None at all!”

The Faculty of Applied Health Sciences student had a driving passion was for mental health, not business development. But Waterloo’s startup incubation ecosystem isn’t only about tech: it also fosters social change.

After winning a pitch contest, Chan moved into GreenHouse, the social incubator at St. Paul's University College on the Waterloo campus, where she found a supportive network of peers and mentors. “I started to get the feeling, ‘Hey, I can do that!’” she says.

Tina Chan and samples of her kits

Now, she’s developing the PASS Kit (for Panic, Anxiety and Stress Support). It’s a small toolkit to help university and college students deal with the sometimes-overwhelming stress they can experience: at exam time, during conflict with roommates, or when living alone for the first time just feels like too much. St. Paul’s freshman class of 185 new students tested the kit with very positive results that included reported reductions in procrastination and even self-harm.

The PASS Kit’s contents are simple:

  • sleeping mask
  • earplugs
  • stress ball
  • chewing gum
  • flash cards with advice for stressed-out students

But simple can be effective. The earplugs and eye mask carve out precious personal space in a shared dorm room. Squeezing a stress ball and chewing gum both activate the body, helping to change the channel for someone caught in a damaging mental pattern.

Flash cards for stress management

The flash cards, though, are the heart of the PASS Kit, says Chan, and took the bulk of her development time. The University of Waterloo’s Counseling Services endorsed the text, which draws on cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to break negative thought patterns.

“It’s the kind of information counselors and health practitioners might give to patients,” Chan says, “but in condensed format. My generation is used to reading Twitter, tips, little quotes. So we thought, why not translate this information into that friendly format?” There are also hotline numbers for users who might have more serious mental health issues.

Sample card recommending students share their success stories rather than be intimidated by other people's success

Sample card recommending that stressed out students should take the time to chew their food 20 times and pay attention to the taste and texture to avoid emotional eating

 

Chan is planning to expand distribution across campus. She’s had interest from colleges and universities in Toronto. She also sees a potential market in Waterloo’s startup community. In a way, that’s closing the circle for Chan because she has an insider’s perspective on that culture, herself.

Chan will graduate in spring and plans to dedicate the next year to the PASS Kit. She’s bringing a co-founder onboard—Alaaddin Sidahmed, a Health Studies program graduate.

Where to go for help