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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How to keep that ...

Amy Muise | February 10, 2016

Amy Muise is a social psychologist who studies how couples can maintain desire and satisfaction over the long haul. For the past four years, she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto Mississauga, working in the Relationships and Well-Being lab. Muise offers Research Matters advice for keeping the spark alive. Our romantic relationships have a profound impact on our overall health and well-being. Studies show people who are more satisfied in their relationships are happier overall and even live longer, but it can be hard for couples to keep the spark alive over time. The passion and desire of the early stages of a relationship often fade and romantic partners may find their sexual interests differ. My research is about understanding how couples can navigate their sexual relationship in a way that enhances desire and satisfaction over time. My colleagues and I recently conducted a set of studies that suggest something we call "sexual communal motivation" is key.  We found people who are motivated to meet their partner’s sexual needs without expecting anything in return — that is, who are high in sexual communal motivation — can reap important sexual and relationship benefits. But what does it mean to have high sexual communal motivation? It means being motivated to be responsive to your partner’s sexual needs, which can sometimes include having sex with your partner when you are not entirely in the mood, being open-minded about your partner’s preferences, communicating with your partner about your sexual likes and dislikes, and ensuring that the sexual relationship is mutually satisfying. We measured people’s levels of sexual communal strength by asking them to answer a series of questions on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely). Those questions included: How far would you be willing to go to meet your partner's sexual needs? How high a priority for you is meeting the sexual needs of your partner? How likely are you to sacrifice your own needs to meet the sexual needs of your partner? How happy do you feel when satisfying your partner's sexual needs? When we asked long-term couples who had been together, on average, for 11 years, we found people who were higher in sexual communal strength felt more sexual desire for their partner and had more enjoyable sexual experiences. More intuitively, the partners of people high in sexual communal strength also reaped important benefits. In our 21-day study of long-term couples, people with communally motivated partners reported that their partners were, in fact, highly responsive to their needs during sex and in turn, they felt more satisfied with and committed to their relationships. In another study in which we followed couples over three months, a person’s sexual communal strength predicted their partner’s satisfaction and commitment at the end of the study. Romantic relationships are vital to our health and well-being, but maintaining desire and satisfaction can be challenging. Our research shows that having high sexual communal strength (and a like-minded partner) might be one path to reversing this trend and to better navigating sexual differences in a relationship.    
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Why your Valentine is ...

Pippa Wysong |

As if love itself weren’t sweet enough, it turns out that simply thinking about your romantic partner causes your blood sugar to go up. Glucose is a marker for stress, says Sarah Stanton who worked on a study investigating stress and love while doing her PhD at the University of Western Ontario. Yet stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she says. Glucose and cortisol levels are both known to increase with stress and provide an energy boost. What makes the difference is whether it’s from an experience that makes you feel positive or negative. Numerous studies have investigated negative stress, but understanding positive stress needs attention too. “It might mean different things for the body,” she says. “We targeted glucose as a physical energy source to see if something simple as reflecting on how much we love our partner might be enough to give us a little bit of an energy boost,” she says. A total of 183 volunteers who were all in romantic relationships were enrolled to study this. Blood samples were taken to determine baseline measures of glucose. Participants were divided into three groups. One group was asked to think about their romantic partner and asked a series of questions to trigger them to think about details of when and where they met this person, when they first realized they were in love, and how they felt being around that person. A second group was asked to think about a close friend of the opposite sex. They were asked how they felt when hanging out with the friend, how they first met, and more – but nothing around romance. A third group was asked to think about something not associated with romance or friendship. They were asked about their daily routine in the morning, such as fixing breakfast. Blood samples were again taken 10 and 25 minutes after the participants did the thought exercises. These times were chosen because activity in the bodily systems involved in increasing glucose tends to peak around those two time points after stress. Across the board, those thinking about their loved-one had noticeable increases in glucose levels. The increases were in a normal, healthy range, and not at levels that could be associated with health problems, Stanton says. In other words, people at risk for diabetes or heart disease needn’t worry. “The boost in glucose we found was associated uniquely with positive affect, so the people who felt good got the boost," she says. "There were no associations with negative affect at all, so this particular kind of thought exercise seems to activate positive feelings as well as a small energy boost." Long-term Relationships Just as Positive The study also showed that participants in long-term relationships had the same increases in glucose as people experiencing love in a new relationship. “It didn’t matter if you were fresh in the relationship or if you’ve been in the relationship for years." she says. "Doing something as simple as thinking about how much you love your partner can give you a short term boost in energy." Stanton continues studying behaviour, physiology, and health in relationships, at Wayne State University in Michigan. Related work continues at UWO under the direction of Lorne Campbell on the science of relationships. Research topics include interpersonal attraction, relationship formation, relationship maintenance, dealing with conflict, mating behaviours and more. The work is leading to a better understanding of human behaviour, the complexities and variations in relationships, and may lead to ways to help people develop healthy relationships.

What arouses women? It’...

Pippa Wysong | February 9, 2016

For many women Valentine’s Day might be about more than the chocolate. Perhaps the chocolate will be followed by a hug, and then, if the chemistry is there, a more intimate encounter. But what triggers arousal and desire in women? This is a topic Meredith Chivers at Queen’s University tackles in the Sexuality and Gender Lab (Sagelab). Her work explores gender and sexuality as it pertains to sexual attraction, desire and arousal, and sexual functioning. However, it’s her research focusing on women that has gained a fair amount of media attention in recent years. For one, she found that women respond to a wider range of sexual media than people had assumed. The adage that men prefer porn while women prefer romance novels isn’t true. But it’s complicated. “There are multiple components to what happens to women’s bodies and minds when they become sexually aroused,” she says. There are psychological components such as are you having positive feelings about the experience, are you distracted, how do you feel about your partner, and are you comfortable with yourself sexually? And then there is being sexually aroused versus feeling desire, details of which are still being sorted out. Are you sitting comfortably? In several of her studies, women participants were invited to sit in a comfortable reclining chair and told how to attach a vaginal and clitoral photoplethysmograph. This is a device that measures physical arousal. It sits in the vulva and uses light reflection to measure swelling of the clitoris and surrounding tissues. One study compared the physical responses of men and women to a mix of sexual and non-sexual emotionally laden short film clips. The men had a different version of a plethysmograph hooked up. The surprise in this study was that while men responded almost exclusively to what they said they preferred, heterosexual women were sexually aroused by stimuli that went beyond their preferences – including various combinations of male and/or female couples. Chivers cautions this does not mean women who identify as being straight aren’t straight. But the finding is an enigma that has been repeatedly found for sexual arousal and other responses. “Among women who are exclusively sexually attracted to men ... who say they are not turned on by women in the least, why is it they have these kinds of responses? What can that tell us about sexual desire and arousal more broadly?” she asks. Work in Chivers’ lab continues to explore this. The work has implications when it comes to solving problems with sexual desire and the fact up to 40 per cent of women report having trouble becoming sexually aroused. But lack of arousal isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Chivers. “Everybody at some points in their life experiences difficulties with sexual response. That’s absolutely normal,” she says. One needs to consider whether it’s transient issue (such as unusual stress distracting you from wanting sex), or whether it’s something that’s consistently happening and is interfering with your ability to enjoy and express your sexuality. Those who are distressed by and want professional help for long-term issues represent just 10 per cent to 15 per cent of women. But there is desire to consider as well: arousal alone doesn’t necessarily translate into wanting sex. Various psychological, biologic, and cultural factors contribute to a woman’s ability to engage and enjoy sex. For those with difficulties, it’s important to learn about your own body and explore what feels good for you, says Chivers. Orgasm isn’t the be-all and end-all of enjoying sex, she says. Having a sensual backrub, cuddles and just feeling close to your lover might be enough to make Valentine’s a sweet time. That, and the chocolate.

Outdoor skating goes south

Wilfrid Laurier University staff |

In future winters, Canadians will have fewer opportunities to skate outdoors, according to a new study by Wilfrid Laurier University researchers. The number of days cold enough for outdoor skating in a typical Canadian winter could decrease by 34 per cent in Montreal and Toronto and by 20 per cent in Calgary over the course of this century, according to a newly published study in The Canadian Geographer. Laurier geography and environmental studies researchers Colin RobertsonRobert McLeman, and Haydn Lawrence reached their findings using data volunteered by hundreds of Canadians who maintain outdoor rinks in their backyards and neighbourhood parks. The researchers combined observations of daily skating conditions with climate-warming scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for years 2020 to 2090, and found a noticeable decline in the number of days when it is possible to skate. “The opportunity to build an outdoor rink won’t disappear entirely, but, especially in central Canada, the length of the skating season will shorten to the point where some winters it may not be worth the trouble of building a rink,” said Robertson, lead author of the study. The data for the study was obtained through RinkWatch, a citizen-science project that invites people from across North America who maintain outdoor skating rinks to identify the location of their rinks on an interactive website map, then report the daily “skateability” of their rinks throughout the winter. Approximately 11,000 skating condition observations were entered from 961 rinks across Canada and the United States for the two winters of data used for the study (2012-13 and 2013-14). The researchers compared skating conditions at rinks in 10 Canadian cities with temperature data from the nearest weather stations to calculate the relationship between local temperatures and the suitability of outdoor ice for skating. These calculations were in turn used to forecast the number of skating days under simulations of future daily average temperatures under the IPCC’s ‘A2’ greenhouse gas emissions scenario. The researchers found that the number of outdoor skating days in the future would vary considerably from one year to the next, and from one region of Canada to another, with the impacts being most noticeable in southern Ontario and southern Quebec. They also found that when average daily temperatures warm even slightly above –5 °C, the likelihood of outdoor skating is reduced, even though temperatures remain below freezing. “We risk having winters where it’s cold outside, but not cold enough to skate,” said McLeman, co-author of the report. “In the greater scheme of things, the disappearance of skating rinks from Canadians’ backyards is minor compared to the risks climate change poses to people living in water-scarce regions or low-lying coastal areas. It’s more a quality-of-life thing. The reality is, climate change is going to affect all of us, and this is just one way Canadians are going to notice it, right in their own backyards.” Watch the RinkWatch video   A version of this story was originally published by Wilfrid Laurier University. It has been edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity, and is republished here with permission

Marketing women’s fantasies

Eleanor Ty | February 8, 2016

Eleanor Ty is a professor in Wilfrid Laurier University's English and film studies department.  Ty offers Research Matters her take on Jane Austen and the endurance of romance literature, particularly romances that reach back in time. In “The 39 Steps to Being A Gentleman,” Rupert Uloth includes the following: #30 Has read Pride and Prejudice.  However tongue-in-cheek the list is (ex. # 34. Sandals? No. Never), that Austen’s novel is the only book mentioned suggests its importance in our cultural repertoire. Scholars have written many critical interpretations of Austen’s novels, but in popular culture, she is best known for romance and love.  Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, about a thirty something single woman living in London looking for Mr. Right, is based on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Costume dramas of Pride and Prejudice, most recently the BBC TV series by Andrew Davies featuring Colin Firth (1995) and Joe Wright’s 2005 film with Keira Knightley emphasize falling in love rather than politics, philosophy, or morals. Austen would have been disturbed to find that Pride and Prejudice (1813) has become the prototype for today’s mass marketed romances, but the novel does highlight two of the most often used tropes of contemporary romances: the Cinderella rags-to-riches story, and the taming of the beast by a beautiful woman. While women have made great strides in the last 200 years, it's fascinating how our fantasies have not. Judging by the sales of adult romances, which in 2013 had an annual total sales value of $1.08 billion, love, the search for true love and reading about love are alive and selling very well. In 2014, romance novels constituted 13 per cent of the share of adult fiction in hard and paper books, but a whopping 39 per cent of ebooks. The formula has changed and yet not changed since the days of the queen of Regency Romance, Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s romances, inspired by Austen, featured protagonists from the upper class: men were strong, authoritative, powerful and older than the young, beautiful, and innocent heroines. The romances attempted to give historically accurate depictions of the period’s social activities, such as dinners, plays, assemblies, carriage rides, fencing, hunting, riding, and boxing.  Often, they featured marriages of convenience and mistaken identities, but tended to be comedies of manners. Changing time and place Today’s historical romances are still set in England before the 1950s, but also in the Medieval period, in colonial American, the American West, and in Scotland.  Settings, clothes, weapons, cooking and travelling methods are historical, but attitudes tend to be contemporary.  As publishers realize readers' changing preferences, historical romances have become more explicitly sexual, and reflect more independent and strong-willed heroines, albeit anachronistically. Love and ultimately heterosexual marriage are still the end goals, but the verbal and physical interaction between the couple, and the means to get to the happily-ever-after end distinguish one romance and one author from another. One way present-day authors rewrite the stereotype of the helpless heroine is by making them proficient at wielding weapons. K.J. Jackson’s Stone Devil Duke begins with the heroine disguised as a hack coach driver who coerces the hero into helping her shoot and kill four thugs. In Glynnis Campbell’s Captive Heart, a warrior maid who is trained as a swordswoman kidnaps a lord in order to prevent her sister’s unwanted marriage.  Both of these women are initially not interested in courtship and marriage but rather wish to protect their family or clan. Other authors deal with contemporary women’s issues such as the after effects of violence and rape. Claire Delacroix’s Frost Maiden’s Kiss features a pregnant heroine who has been raped by an army of mercenaries in Medieval Scotland while Barbara Ankrum’s hero in Holt’s Gamble rescues the heroine from an abusive relationship with her saloon master in 19th century colonial America. In both these romances, the handsome hero has to care for a psychologically-wounded woman, reversing the nurse romances of the 1960s and 70s. A favourite plotline of historical romance today is the time travelling story popularized by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, about a nurse from the Second World War who is mysteriously transported to the Highlands of 1743. How she and her Scottish husband fight the ruling English soldiers at Culloden has been adapted into a TV series nominated for a Golden Globe recently. Similarly, Tanya Anne Crosby’s heroine in Once Upon a Highland Legend, who is studying Archeology and Anthropology, is searching for the Stone of Destiny and instead finds herself falling for a half-naked Pict in the 9th century. These time travelling women happily forego flushed toilets and penicillin to live with their Medieval or 18th century kilted heroes.  Ah, true love!
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