Maxine Myre | June 5, 2014
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:
- “E-Mental Health in Canada: Transforming the Mental Health System Using Technology” – The Mental Health Commission of Canada
- “e-Mental Health” – The Mental Health Commission of Canada
- And remember that if you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health-related issue, help is also available on your campus.
The whole package
Teresa Pitman | September 26, 2014If you’ve ever bought ready-to-eat sushi, you may have noticed a blob of wasabi on the tray. It’s a convenient way to add pungent flavour to your lunch, but it also serves another purpose: it protects your food from micro-organisms. As food science professor Loong-Tak Lim explains, wasabi contains allylisothiocyanate, (AITC) a natural and potent anti-microbial that kills yeast and bacteria. Of course, not every food is enhanced by the strong flavour of wasabi, so Lim has developed a packaging system that offers the same antimicrobial benefits . Lim derives his AITC from ground mustard powder, and uses a patented nanotechnological process to spin tiny fibres that encapsulate the naturally sourced agent in the packaging. “The conventional approach to adding preservatives has been to add them to the food,” says Lim's research colleague Suramya Mihindukulasuriya. “But processing the food may break down the preservative. By having the preservative in the packaging, we don’t need as high a concentration to enhance the shelf-life, safety and quality of the food.” So-called “active packaging,” responds to changes in the environment and the food itself, Lim says. In this case, the membrane responds to a certain level of moisture and releases a preservative to prevent spoiling. Other active packaging materials respond to heat and light. Mihindukulasuriya works with a preservative called hexanal, the volatile organic compound you smell when you cut grass or slice a cucumber. Hexanal helps preserve cell membranes of fruits and vegetables so they don’t become soft or soggy as they ripen. The preservative also has some anti-microbial properties, which are activated by heat and humidity. Mihindukulasuriya calls her technique of enclosing the preservative using ultra-high electrical forces “electrospinning.” Lim jokes that “we are like Spiderman, spinning tiny fibres.” And the fibres are tiny – about 400 times smaller than a human hair. When exposed to humidity or water, these fibres become permeable and release the hexanal. During her PhD studies, Mihindukulasuriya also developed an oxygen indicator that is activated by ultraviolet radiation. When there is little or no oxygen in the package, the indicator is white, but if the package is damaged or torn, allowing oxygen to enter, the indicator turns blue. This matters because oxygen causes rapid deterioration of some foods, and higher levels of oxygen encourage the growth of more micro-organisms. These foods are sealed in vacuum packs or in packages flushed with nitrogen to remove the oxygen, but if the package becomes damaged at some point, oxygen can get inside. That’s where Mihindukulasuriya’s product comes in: a label with a blue line would indicate that the package should not be purchased. What’s next in active and intelligent packaging? Mihindukulasuriya is planning to develop a compound that will detect the volatile compounds produced by food when it spoils and indicate to consumers that the food should not be eaten. The technique would supplement expiry dates, which are only estimates based on typical situations. Not only would such packaging warn people that food had spoiled, it could also reassure them when it was safe to eat – even if the expiry date had passed. “People throw away lots of food that has expired but is still perfectly good to eat,” says Lim. This article was originally published by the University of Guelph. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and style, and is republished here with permission.