Flourish Wins Mental Health Innovation Fund

A unique mental health program developed at UTSC to help first-year students thrive both mentally and academically will be able to expand thanks to a funding boost from the province.

Flourish, a strength-based intervention program that helps students identify and cope with stressors in their life by fostering resilience skills, will receive $225,000 over two years as part of the Mental Health Innovation Fund from the Ministry of Training of College and Universities.

“Studies show that a staggering 17 per cent of Canadian students report feeling so depressed that is was difficult for them to function, while another 21 per cent reported overwhelming anxiety,” says UTSC psychologist Dr. Tayyab Rashid, who helped develop the program.

“Flourish is a robust, holistic approach that helps first-year students identify their resilience skills in order to cope with mental health challenges they may face.”

After filling out a confidential online assessment that identifies strengths, levels of stress as well as academic habits and stressors, students are referred to a hands-on workshop that focuses on building emotional, physical and academic resilience. This is done by teaching them adaptive use of their strengths to help manage stress, improve well-being and enhance academic performance.

Students are also connected to on-campus professionals who can help develop individual strengths. Services range from sessions with a trainer from Athletics & Recreation, a meeting with a learning strategist or career counsellor, to confidential and free individual counselling from the Health & Wellness Centre or a meeting with a faculty or staff member.

“It’s alarming that the majority of students with a mental health illness do not receive treatment through our current health care system due to stigma or services that do no address their unique experiences,” says Rashid. “Hopefully Flourish can help break down those barriers.”

The funding will expand the existing program to provide support to all first-year students, promoting it during orientation. It will also include full-day workshops and follow-up sessions offered at UTSC’s state-of-the-art Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

Flourish will also be made available to Scarborough-area high school students, with training for TDSB high school teachers, guidance counsellors, school psychologists and social workers in a strengths-based resilience (SBR) curriculum. Two workshops will be delivered by school psychologists or social workers to parents of students participating in the program.  Students, teachers and parents will also have online access to multi-media resources regarding mental health and its impact on academics and social life.

“Students face many challenges and it’s important we are proactive in making sure they have the resources needed to succeed,” says Rick Halpern, UTSC dean and vice-principal, academic. “Flourish is such an innovative approach to mental health services because it puts students individual mental health needs first.”

Jan 30, 2015 | Don Campbell