Grad Connections is a bi-monthly chat forum hosted by “expert staff facilitators” from Grad Life and branches of UofT. The facilitator provides structure and information on the weekly topic. The goal is to provide an informal setting where grad students can relate to and learn from each other on a topic related to grad student life.
Last November, Marta and I (Robyn) attended a Grad Connections forum ‘Five Ways to Well-being: Maintaining Balance and Staying Healthy’, at the Student Life Building, 21 Sussex. The room and group size were small, about 15 grad students in attendance. The facilitator was friendly and informative. The atmosphere was welcoming, and hot chocolate and cookies were provided.
The ‘Five Ways to Well-being’ discussion was facilitated by an outreach member of the Health & Wellness Centre, Chad. Two Grad Life staff were present to provide additional information on resources, and to help the flow of conversation. Students were from different academic areas and years of study.
To start off, facilitator Chad discussed the implementation of UofT’s Mental Health Framework, launched in 2014. The goal is to frame student mental wellness as an institutional priority (“commitment”) through the strategic expansion or implementation of education and training opportunities (to promote awareness), mental health services and programs (such as workshops and forums), and developing “policies and procedures that support students”.
This Grad Connection forums like this, focused on mental wellness, is an example of one initiative of the Mental Health Framework recommendation #3: Use inclusive curriculum & teaching approaches to build resilience and diminish stress. ‘Resilience’ meaning “the developed capacity to overcome adversity and to adapt and learn from challenges”. This definition is from UofT’s Student Life Resiliency Project, ‘Fostering Resilience: a Framework for Supporting Students’. The SL Resilience Project (public link unavailable) derives from Positive Psychology, focused on training “thinking patterns to reframe adversity & recognize agency”. In other words, recognizing your personal strengths and leveraging them/putting them into action to overcome a challenge (or develop and carry out a strategy to resolve, overcome, or accomplish something). As well as, research on resiliency from professor of Social Work, Michael Ungar influenced the SL Resilience Project definition.
“In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways.” – [Excerpt from Ungar 2008; 2011. See references below. Or Ungar’s website here]
<– Some questions for reflection.. What are examples of these different kinds of ‘resources that sustain well-being’? And what are ‘culturally meaningful’ resources that sustain individual and collective well-being? I think these are big questions for an institution seeking to “build resilience” in students and prioritize mental health, and it’d be interesting to know clearly how UofT answers. Write us your thoughts
Back to the Grad Connections workshop…
Facilitator Chad presented the core ideas and initiatives of the Mental Health Framework, and answered our questions for more details on resources. One resource we discussed was the peer advisory program Grad-to-Grad (G2G) of the Conflict Resolution Centre. This program is for students to “connect confidentially with a trained G2G Peer Advisor to talk about options and strategies for addressing a concern and university supports and resources”. Another resource brought up by a student was Mindful Moments: meditation sessions facilitated by Health & Wellness Centre and hosted around campus.
Phew, while all of this stuff aBoVe is interesting and useful, the large portion of the forum was focused on Five Ways to Well-Being
- Be Active
- Take Notice
- Keep Learning
Connect (with people who make you feel at home/feel like the real you)
- Make an effort to take time and stay connected with these valuable people in your life
- Even one authentic connection in the day makes a difference
- There is lots of evidence supporting the mental health benefits of physical activity
- Aim for 20 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous exercise, a minimum of 10 minutes each exercise session (e.g. walking at a quick pace to school or around campus)
- Learning can be formal or informal, important or fun
- Having a hobby is one way to pursue learning
Take notice (of the world around you and the world within)
- Use your senses to attend to features of your environment and self that you may sometimes pass by
- For more on this, look into mindfulness (for some resources on this, look into Mindful Moments at the Health and Wellness Centre, as well as iRelax at the Inforum)
Give (your time and energy to people and projects of importance/worthwhile causes)
- People who give their time and energy feel connected to their communities and are more likely to reach out for mental health help when they need it
- Giving can be anything from volunteering to holding the door open to someone else
According to facilitator Chad, these five practices have been shown to improve mental wellness, especially when practiced on a daily basis. When you try out any of these tips, them out, stick to them for a week or a month and then reflect on what has been working for you.
All in all, the forum was an encouraging exchange, and Marta and I reflected on how valuable these kinds of group conversations are – facilitating grad students relating to and learning from their peers.
Written by Marta Cooper Burt and Robyn Forman, co-chairs of iStudents for Mental Health
Ungar, M. (2008). Resilience across cultures, British Journal of Social Work, 38(2), 218-235.
Ungar, M. (2011). The social ecology of resilience. Addressing contextual and cultural ambiguity of a nascent construct. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 81, 1-17.
Image from UofT Mississauga Health & Counselling Centre