Overwhelming amounts of schoolwork.

Difficulty balancing school, a job, family, and friends.

Pressure to succeed academically.

These are only a few of the factors that can contribute to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health struggles for students.

Kathleen Moore, a PhD student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, researches how technology can be used to provide information about mental health, as well as support for students with mental health difficulties.

Post-secondary students already have access to a variety of face-to-face options for information and support. But Moore sees tremendous opportunity to supplement counselling and peer-support services with technology, especially for populations that are not comfortable using face-to-face options.

“As an example, for graduate students specifically, the stigma surrounding mental health and the possibility of seeing some of [their] students in the [counselling] office may cause them to not use those types of resources,” Moore says.

Digital strategies look different at every institution. In a poster presentation given at Congress 2014, Moore described some initiatives that are currently in place or developing at universities in Ontario.

Several universities, for instance, have modified their website’s homepage to make mental health resources easily available to students, staff, and faculty.

Another focus has been the development of online learning modules, which participants can work through in order to gain more knowledge surrounding mental health and available support.

“Mindsight,”developed by Wendy Stanyon, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, is an online learning module that aims to reduce stigma by promoting awareness and understanding of mental health. The module also provides resources and coping strategies for people facing mental health challenges. Online learning modules at the University of Toronto and Queen’s University are providing similar services.

Whether it’s using Twitter to provide information about available counseling hours, or having an online peer-support group, social media is also providing new, relatable avenues for students.

Naturally, mobile devices are also playing an increasingly important role.

Several apps launched about mental health do things such as help people chart moods, manage coping skills, or connect to sources of support. “It will be interesting to me to see whether that’s something a school might tap into in the future,” says Moore.

The next steps are to determine if students are aware that these online resources exist and to see if they are being used effectively.

“It’s a constantly changing area. There’s new stuff coming out all the time,” says Moore.

For more information about e-mental health, check out these resources:

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From farm to fork

ORION staff | October 9, 2015

It’s morning. Farmers across Ontario are waking up to tend to their animals. You might be sitting down to a plate of scrambled eggs—maybe even a few strips of bacon. We take it for granted that this food will be safe to eat. But we rarely think about why. That, in part, is thanks to people like University of Guelph systems design engineer Deborah Stacey. Relying on a high-performance computing network, her research helps inform the regulatory structures that ensure our food is free of contamination and that the animals it comes from are healthy. It is, in part, due to her work that we now have modelling programs such as NAADSM, the North American Animal Disease Spread Model. This is the software governments and industry rely on to plan for and prevent epidemics. “NAADSM allows you to put in various scenarios for various animal diseases to see how they would spread,” says Stacey. “My interest is in looking at the network connections within that: contact, moving animals from one herd to another, and licking or touching other animals. I’m interested in how these contact networks differ across industries, which could suggest a different path of disease spread.” This research is then used by organizations such as the Guelph-based Poultry Industry Council to help determine which transportation and feed networks most effectively limit or eliminate things like avian diseases—in other words, how to ensure your scrambled eggs are safe. Stacey’s work produces a staggering amount of data, and it requires a lot of statistical analysis. It’s done through the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network, or SHARCNET, a consortium of Ontario universities, colleges and research centres using a shared system of distributed high-performance computing, linked together through the ORION network. “Studying these networks made me more aware of how we develop and distribute the food we eat,” Stacey says. “It was surprising to find out how critical these farming systems are, and that they can be understood using mathematical models. These human systems that we’ve evolved are incredibly complex, and it was enlightening to see how much we need to study this—our food safety and security depend on understanding these systems.” A  version of this story was originally published by ORION.  It has been edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity, and is republished here with permission. 
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Robyn Dugas | August 25, 2015

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