Throughout the end of her high school years and into first-year university, Tina Chan struggled with panic and stress. She sought help in her second year, but found that between long wait lists for appointments with health and psychological services, co-op terms, and other inconveniences, she was often left with a lot of waiting time between sessions. Her counselling appointments, Internet research, and support from friends helped her to develop tools, but there were still significant gaps.
This spring, Tina was part of a case competition at UWaterloo where she heard about the Big Ideas Challenge for Health and Wellbeing. She and her team began brainstorming business ideas. Knowing there is a rising incidence of mental health issues among university students and gaps in meeting these needs, when someone suggested developing a first aid kit for students, Tina piggybacked on that idea, suggesting developing a mental health first aid kit.
The seed for the PASS Kit (Panic, Anxiety & Stress Support) was planted. Tina made a pitch at the April Big Ideas Challenge and was selected to be part of the St. Paul’s GreenHouse community for the summer term.
Tina is finishing up an eight-month co-op position — which fortunately has some flexibility to its hours — at the same time as participating in the GreenHouse program and developing the next steps of the PASS kit together with her two teammates. Being part of GreenHouse has helped her make connections with people in the mental health community both on and off campus, as well as offering mentorship. The best part of GreenHouse, Tina says, is being part of the community of “very innovative, smart, and socially minded” students.
This summer, Tina and her teammates are working to validate the components of their kits, to make sure they have data that demonstrates the value of each element in the kit in helping students reduce stress or become calm in the face of a looming panic attack.
One element of their kit is a series of cards that offer strategies in a condensed, easy-to-digest way. The content of the cards is based on material used by student mental health services, but having the cards available as part of a kit that students can easily attach to a backpack will offer portable mental health assistance. All the elements of the kit are ones that help students to ground themselves in ways that they personalize to what works for them, and to get out of catastrophic, panicked thinking.
Already, only one month into the term at GreenHouse, Tina and her team have shifted their business model thanks to mentorship and coaching, to one that will allow the kit to be included in every frosh kit.
“I don’t think I would have pursued entrepreneurship if I hadn’t gotten this opportunity,” says Tina. “My hope for this PASS Kit is that it will help university students struggling with panic, anxiety and stress to be able to ground themselves in reality and to recognize what situation really is – that it is controllable and manageable – and that they can be okay in any situation.”
- by Susan Fish