It’s one thing to have good mental health supports available but it’s another thing to make sure people are using them. Danica Smith first faced this challenge when she entered university and struggled with the adjustment. “Was I stressed? Was I depressed? I was unsure of what term to use and whether or not my confusion warranted professional support, and I wished I had someone on campus I felt I could openly talk to about what I was experiencing.”
Now in her final year studying a BSc Honours Kinesiology with a minor in Psychology, Dani wanted to make sure that no one else had this experience. “The University of Waterloo has supports available to students but there is still so much stigma about accessing these supports, that it can be very intimidating to navigate the systems on your own, especially when you are struggling.”
Last fall, Dani joined GreenHouse after hearing about it from a number of friends who had been part of the community. She knew she wanted to make a difference in the mental health of students in the UWaterloo community but wasn’t sure how.
“At first I wanted to do everything possible because I believe everyone needs to focus on this crisis, but I didn’t know where to start. Talking with my GreenHouse coach, Anne, was really helpful in being able to focus my idea in one place.”
That place is now called CommUnityXP, an online platform Dani is developing along with her former varsity rugby teammate Ben Skinner. Ben has a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Waterloo and currently works for a Peace Research Institute doing digital communications. They were inspired by Dani's idea, as the function that UXP seeks to serve is something Ben believes they too would have benefited greatly from during their undergrad. Together they are developing a platform that not only brings together all the mental health resources in an online hub but more importantly functions as an interactive storytelling platform specifically for students to talk to one another about their experiences. Dani says, “This isn’t a professional service but a confidential buffer between looking for help and receiving professional help. It’s both an early intervention and a place for the student community to form meaningful connections that build empathy and empower self-help seeking behaviours within postsecondary institutions.”
Dani and Ben are at the prototyping stage, having developed a wireframe for the site and are seeking funds to help them develop the site.
Dani says, “I’m excited that if this takes off as I think it will, people will start talking about mental health as if it’s normal—because it is. I think a lot about how I can further contribute to that normalization. That’s what I want to see. Someday I imagine that I will have a child who will go off to university with no fear that they will fall between the cracks when it comes to seeking mental health support.”