Student Mental Health Research Conference 2022Export this event to calendar

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 — 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM EDT

The University of Waterloo Student Mental Health Research Conference brought together members of the Waterloo community to share knowledge, connect researchers, and promote mental wellness.

The agenda featured topics broadly pertaining to student and emerging adult mental health with an emphasis on the following key themes:

  • Promotion of mental health-care strategies;
  • Impact of trauma;
  • Equity and mental wellness e.g., effects of inequities on the mental health of equity-deserving groups such as Indigenous, Black and other racialized people, LGBTQAI2S+, people with disabilities;
  • Harm reduction approaches to substance use; and
  • Impact of COVID-19 on mental health.


Time Presentation title, presenter(s), and abstract
9:00am Opening remarks by President Vivek Goel 

Staying high while I survive: The relationship between substance abuse, trauma and psychotic disorders amongst young Black men of African Ancestry

Presented by: David Grant

This presentation reports on the overrepresentation of young Black men entering into the mental health system as a result of experiencing psychosis and other symptoms associated with psychotic disorders, particularly those induced by substance abuse. Specifically, this presentation notes the presenter’s experience in observing the recurring theme of trauma related to experiences with racism, sexual violence and community violence and how the effects of these various forms of trauma appear to correlate with the onset of substance abuse and consequential psychotic disorders. This presentation references existing literature and utilizes two clinical case examples from the presenter’s experience as a social worker treating Black male youth in an outpatient program operating out of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) entitled, the Substance Abuse Program for African Caribbean and Canadian Youth (SAPACCY). This presentation intends to highlight the importance of incorporating racial-trauma informed and culturally responsive methods of assessing and conceptualizing Black male youth’s mental health symptoms of, especially those diagnosed with, psychotic disorders. The implications for the presentation include advocacy for revamping assessments of Black male youth entering into the mental health system, expanding existing culturally responsive services like SAPACCY, encouraging more research on preventative strategies addressing various levels of trauma affecting our Black male youth and implementation of more psychoeducation on the effects of substance abuse in the greater Black African Diaspora community.


Characteristics of emerging adults with trauma in inpatient mental health

Presented by: Danielle Fearon

Purpose: Traumatic life events can have major long-term health impacts and have been associated with a variety of psychiatric disorders (such as depression and substance use). Individuals with trauma often report higher levels of physical health complaints and health service utilization. Understanding the characteristics of emerging adults with trauma can bridge gaps in clinical diagnoses. The primary aim of this study is to understand common characteristics of emerging adults with trauma.

Methods: Using data from the Ontario Mental Health Reporting System, we retrospectively identified all individuals with full hospital admissions between January 1, 2015 to December 31st, 2019. Using the Traumatic Life Events Clinical Assessment Protocol, participants were classified into three groups: No history of trauma, prior history of traumatic events, and immediate safety concerns. Individuals who were admitted from a psychiatric hospital or unit were excluded. Demographic characteristics were analyzed at baseline. Results: Significant bivariate differences were observed for age, sex, education, employment, homelessness and marginalization. Individuals with trauma were more likely to be female (59.01%), between the ages of 25 and 44 (40.05%), utilize substances (57.58%), with greater than high school education (58.7%). Approximately 20.59% of individuals with trauma presented depression. Individuals with immediate safety concerns also had the highest rates of homelessness (7.81%).

Implications: There is a growing need to strengthen our understanding of who individuals with trauma are, and the broader factors that contribute to their mental health service utilization. Understanding the characteristics of individuals with trauma will support clinical decision making and policy practices.


Prevalence of anxiety amongst university students during COVID-19 

Presented by: Shefali Liyanage

There is a dearth of evidence synthesis on the prevalence of anxiety among university students even though the risk of psychological disorders among this population is quite high. We conducted a quantitative systematic review to estimate the global prevalence of anxiety among university students during the COVID-19 pandemic. A systematic search for cross-sectional studies on PubMed, Scopus, and PsycINFO, using PRISMA guidelines, was conducted from September 2020 to February 2021. A total of 36 studies were included, using a random-effects model to calculate the pooled proportion of anxiety. A meta-analysis of the prevalence estimate of anxiety yielded a summary prevalence of 41% (95% CI = 0.34–0.49), with statistically significant evidence of between- study heterogeneity (Q = 80801.97, I2 = 100%, p ≤ 0.0001). A subgroup analysis reported anxiety prevalence in Asia as 33% (95% CI:0.25–0.43), the prevalence of anxiety in Europe as 51% (95% CI: 0.44–0.59), and the highest prevalence of anxiety in the USA as 56% (95% CI: 0.44–0.67). A subgroup gender-based analysis reported the prevalence of anxiety in females as 43% (95% CI:0.29–0.58) compared to males with an anxiety prevalence of 39% (95% CI:0.29–0.50). University students seem to have a high prevalence of anxiety, indicating an increased mental health burden during this pandemic.

10:30am Break

Pandemic pressures: Examining nuances in parent, child, and family well-being concerns during COVID-19 in a Canadian sample 

Presented by: Laura Colucci 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused vast life disruptions for families since early 2020. While numerous environmental stressors have been identified, including job loss and the demands of balancing work-life conflicts and at-home schooling, relatively less is known about the areas of family life adults and specifically parents are most concerned about, and how these worries relate to well-being across the family system. Canadian parents (n=32,228, 90% mothers, 57% Ontario residents) of children aged 0-14 were surveyed about their concerns related to child, parent, and family well-being in June 2020. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to model the relationship between concerns about children, parenting, and the whole family, in association with several sociodemographic variables including child disability status, parent sex and education, job loss during COVID-19, and caregiver employment. Parenting, child, and family concerns were positively correlated. Higher child and family concerns were reported by parents who had not attended university, those who had experienced employment loss or reduced hours, and families with all adults working outside the home. Parents of children with a disability reported higher concerns across all three domains: child, parenting, and family psychosocial well-being. These results showcase distinct associations between social determinants of health and the types of worries caregivers exhibited across multiple areas of family life during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. Findings are interpreted in relation to clinical intervention and public policy targets related to well-being concerns in Canadian parents during this global stressor.

Presentation slides


The role of health equity in mental health promotion: The KDE Hub as an exemplar

Presented by: Niomi Cherney and Katie Cook

In this presentation, we will provide an overview of what the field of mental health promotion is, and what role the KDE Hub plays in the field. We will discuss parallel examples of the KDE Hub’s work, , including examples from research conducted by the Hub to illustrate how Mental Health Promotion is being mobilized in the field and in academic literature.

The Knowledge Development and Exchange (KDE) Hub was launched as a new entity in 2019 by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Mental Health Promotion Innovation Fund (MHP-IF). The KDE Hub Secretariat is located at Renison University CollegeThe KDE Hub seeks to advance mental health promotion (MHP) in Canada that is evidence-informed, sensitive to cultures and context, equitable, and sustainable.

The purpose of the KDE Hub is trifold:

  • Create new knowledge across funded projects that can inform MHP programs and policies in Canada
  • Build community and capacity for advancing MHP in Canada
  • Strengthen systemic supports for scaling promising approaches for MHP in Canada

In defining Mental Health Promotion, and its inextricable relationship to health equity, we will draw on materials produced by the Hub including videos, research findings, and other knowledge products.  We will present material from MHP-IF funded projects, as well as the preliminary results from two recent literature reviews on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of Canadians (2020-2022) and the impact of racism on Canadians (2016-2022).

12:00pm Lunch break

The contribution of executive functioning and emotion regulation to well-being and psychological distress in university students

Presented by: Fatima Wasif 

While at university, students set and seek to accomplish several goals within academic, career, and social domains (e.g., engaging in proactive career behaviours like network building). Goal achievement is linked to greater individual well-being; an essential outcome for university students who typically report more mental health concerns than the general population (Stallman, 2011). In these studies, we explored predictive factors for student well-being, focusing on (1) emotion regulation, the strategies used to enhance, dampen, or sustain one’s emotions for goal attainment and (2) executive functions, the interrelated cognitive skills that facilitate engagement in adaptive behaviours during goal pursuit (Goldstein & Naglieri, 2014; Thompson, 1994). In Study 1, 210 undergraduates (Mage = 20.49, 73% female) completed surveys related to emotion regulation, executive functioning challenges experienced in daily life, and mental health concerns. In Study 2, 169 undergraduates (Mage = 20.16, 56% female) completed the same questionnaires and also reported on their more general affective experiences. Higher levels of psychological distress and negative affect were associated with less endorsement of the cognitive reappraisal strategy of emotion regulation, which involves redefining a situation to alter its emotional impact (e.g., thinking about a presentation as a chance to practice public speaking skills). This effect was especially salient for students who reported more difficulties related to their executive functioning. We discuss how post-secondary institutions can incorporate workshops teaching emotion regulation strategies, centered on cognitive reappraisal, as part of general efforts to promote mental health, emotional well-being, and goal attainment amongst students.  


Coping with the climate crisis: Investigating the mental health impacts of climate change on youth and exploring the efficacy of a photovoice intervention 

Presented by: Beth Grant 

Research suggests that young people experience compounding vulnerabilities to the mental health impacts of climate change. Though severe cases can be detrimental, manageable levels of ‘practical anxiety’ is a natural reaction to climate change and can promote sustainable behaviour. This presentation focuses on the mental health impacts of climate change in youth and young adults, with a specific interest in undergraduates in environmentally-related programs of study. We used photovoice methodology, a participatory action research approach, as a data collection tool and simultaneously analysed it as a potential intervention to manage climate-related mental health impacts and empower youth. Participants aged 16-23 were recruited from environmental programs and networks at the University of Waterloo. They were invited to capture and submit photographs reflecting key dimensions of their local environments, and then to discuss their images and experiences of climate change in focus groups. Youth involved in the study experienced diverse climate-related mental health impacts derived from a range of experiences, including environmental education itself. To cope, study participants drew on several primary sources of resilience, including spending time in nature, participating in the community, taking environmental action, and practicing mindful reflection. Our study found that through participation in photovoice, which reflects key elements of these coping strategies, youth experienced subjective improvements in mental health and well-being and feelings of empowerment. We conclude with recommendations for managing climate-related mental health impacts and improving supports, specifically in post-secondary institutions. 


The Campus Assessment Tool: A youth led participatory research project

Presented by: Jerrica Little, Stuart McHenry, Erin Sioui, Lama Abdallah is a national charity that works with young people to identify and dismantle barriers to positive mental health. In 2018, created the Campus Assessment Tool (CAT), a participatory research project for post-secondary mental health advocates. The CAT provides a framework, tools, and mentorship to help students identify different services and systems on their campus and engage with decision-makers at their institutions in mental health promotion work. There are two main components of the CAT: the Audit Framework and the Student Survey. The Audit Framework is a student-led participatory research tool that compiles information on mental health services, resources, and policies offered on-campus. While the Audit Framework measures institutional-level characteristics of the mental health system, the Student Survey is intended to gather individual-level data surrounding students’ perceptions of services and help-seeking behaviours. Together, these tools provide data that can be used to explain help-seeking attitudes and behaviours among the general post-secondary student population, as well as mental health service use and satisfaction, forming a basis for evidence-based evaluation and collaboration between students and institutional decision-makers. This presentation will focus primarily on findings from the Audit Framework completed at UW, as the new Student Survey is being piloted in November, 2022. A student advocate from the 2021-22 tool will be joining the presentation to share their reflections from participating in the project. The student will also discuss how they're using the data to inform their advocacy for improved mental health promotion, policy and service provision on their campus.


Ayurveda healthy practices to restore mental health 

Presented by: Shweta Dewan 

In this fast-paced world, youth/students are becoming more prone to stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. In Ayurveda (natural system of medicine originating in India), these mental disorders are referred to as Manovikaras (disorders of the mind). The management of these mental disorders requires alteration of behavioural habits which helps to maintain Mansika Swasthya (restoration of mental health). Ayurveda has mentioned daily guidelines, Dincharya, to live a healthy life. Following these guidelines on a daily/ consistent basis makes our mind and body strong and helps one stay away from various mental disorders. Abhyanga is one of the Karma (action items) mentioned in Dinacharya. Abhyanga involves massaging specific energy points using herbal oils. Abhyanga helps to relax the body and mind by balancing the air and ether element. In this presentation, we will talk about the concept of Dincharya in Ayurveda and its benefits. We will also demonstrate and help identify the most common energy points which our audience can leverage to restore their mental health.

2:40pm Break

Implementation and impact of the 4-pillar approach to Canadian drug strategy: examples from the student context

Presented by: Karolina Kaminska

Background: In 2001, the strategy “Framework for Action: A Four Pillar Approach to Drug Problems in Vancouver (2001)" was published to address growing substance-related harms in British Columbia and was soon afterwards adopted as official Canadian policy. The approach highlighted prevention, treatment, enforcement, and harm reduction, and has since been revised to accommodate improved understanding of best practices in substance and addiction. Twenty years later, despite these updates, there remain criticisms on the structure and implementation of the policy as well as its impact on people of varying demographic status.

Purpose: This study explores how the four-pillar approach was implemented in Canada and its impact on communities since its publication. Examples of the implementation of this policy will also be explored in the context of students, given the high incidence and prevalence of substance use in this population. Methods: A scoping review will be undertaken using databases like Pubmed, Embase, grey literature by reputable health and substance-related organizations, keywords relevant to the subject area and pre-established inclusion criteria. Data will be extracted from each screened article and synthesized into the topics of strategy evolution, implementation, impact, and examples.

Implications: The introduction of the four-pillar approach at the start of the 21st century affected the response to substance use and addiction across the country. Understanding the strategy’s implementation and impact could provide insight into areas of improvement to Canadian drug policy, especially in various settings and populations, including those of students.


A research protocol for the development, implementation and evaluation of a toolkit of mental health care quality indicators for youth with bipolar disorder

Presented by: Dane Mauer-Vakil

Bipolar disorder (BD) is an illness involving episodes of severe mood disturbance that cause an individual to cycle through periods of depression and elevated mood. It is one of the leading causes of disability globally and is associated with increased rates of premature mortality as a result of medical comorbidities and suicide. Pediatric BD affects approximately 2% of youth under the age of 18 and thus is particularly relevant to emerging adult and student populations given that the age ranges of such populations coincide with particularly high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders, including BD. In Ontario, there has been a movement in recent years in adult mental health care to develop quality standards that speak to clinical best practices, most of which has been facilitated by Health Quality Ontario. Despite this progress, there is a dearth of literature focused on understanding and evaluating the performance of the youth mental health system in the province, and thus quality standards not been established. This abstract submission is a research protocol for the development, implementation, and evaluation of a toolkit of mental health care quality indicators for youth with BD. I will present my proposed doctoral research which is comprised of three aims: 1) To establish a working knowledge of the characteristics of youth with BD (e.g., clinical and health service needs), 2) To refine a set of quality indicators for this population (i.e., a set of health system performance expectations), and 3) To quantify and operationalize the proposed quality indicators.


Improving public health policies to provide better mental health care for small scale fisheries 

Presented by: Astha Priya 

Small-scale fisheries (SSF) support over 90 percent of the 120 million people engaged in capture fisheries globally. The volatile environmental situation that surrounds SSF put millions of fishers at risk for negative impacts. These are not only physical but also severe mental health consequences. There is a need to define mental health as a major vulnerability in SSF and in turn, find solutions built within public policy. Poor mental health leads to detrimental outcomes for fisher’s livelihoods, and if untreated can lead to death. Currently there is a lack of aid available in these communities for adequate mental health care. The purpose of this research is to provide better aid for individuals suffering from mental illnesses in SSF, through improvement of local public health policies. A qualitative research methods approach will be used in this study, in the research area of in Chilika Lagoon, India. A qualitative design will aid in unravelling the cultural context, barriers, needs, and experiences of the people. The implications of this research will be to discover a solution toward bettering mental health care, and ultimately create a set of guidelines for incorporating best mental health care practices in health policies, in SSF. These recommendations will be scalable to a global level. The goal is to improve viable local governance response in policy, society and community, thus reducing vulnerability and increasing viability. The importance of this research is seen through its originality. There is limited literature for bridging mental health and policy in the SSF context.

3:45pm Closing remarks by Provost Jim Rush
Microsoft Teams Live Event


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