How do we start a campus-wide conversation about mental health that everyone can be a part of?
“We all have mental health… just like we all have physical health. It [mental health] is something you can build and you can learn skills to help you flourish in your life,” says Patty Hambler, the Director of Health Promotion and Education at UBC’s Vancouver campus.
In 2009, Hambler and Suzanne Jolly, her colleague at UBC Human Resources at the time, began a partnership that sparked the birth of Thrive on the Vancouver campus. Two years later, UBC’s Okanagan campus adopted Thrive. Little did they know that it was only the beginning of Thrive’s influence as a movement that universities across Canada would adopt to increase mental health literacy.
Hambler describes Thrive as “a time every year when we can come together to recognize how important mental health is… within our community and within higher education”. By having intentional dialogue, we decrease stigma, including self-stigma, which allows individuals to talk about their mental health and ask for help if they need it. In the midst of heavy workloads, midterms, the change in weather, and decreased daylight, Thrive generates connection and a series of approaches for people to prioritize their mental health.
Thrive is for the entire UBC community; undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to participate in diverse events, and explore their path to mental health. Thrive’s approach to building mental health revolves around the Thrive 5, which includes moving regularly, helping others, sleeping soundly, eating well, and connecting socially. These five components are supported by research to have a positive long-term effect to our mood and mental health. However, Thrive recognizes there are more ways to increase mental health and resilience—for example, engaging with arts and culture, or talking about how you’re feeling, or knowing when to ask for help—and encourages partners to explore and share different, innovative practices.
Looking back at the first Thrive in 2009, the words “mental health” were not used when promoting the week-long event. Instead, the theme was “health, community, and commitment”; even though supporting positive mental health was their intention, the planning committee didn’t feel that they could use those words. It was only in later years that Thrive began to use “mental health” in the forefront of their promotion. Seeing Thrive’s growth in the past decade shows UBC’s awareness of the importance of mental health, as well as a shift in the stigma around talking about it.
This year, Thrive celebrates its 10-year anniversary with an entire month of events and initiatives aimed at fostering and maintaining mental health, and providing an avenue that enables students, faculty, and staff to explore resources, clubs, and activities dedicated to bettering one’s mental health. By creating these connections, participants can explore ways to thrive year-round.
Thrive is only one part of UBC’s commitment to mental health and wellbeing. UBC recently launched the Wellbeing Strategic Framework,which outlines the university’s vision for a health and wellbeing-promoting institution. At UBC Vancouver, the Health Promotion and Education unit has incorporated mental health literacy into student orientations such as Jump Start, works closely with faculty members to embed wellbeing practices into learning environments, and recently launched a new graduate student ambassador program, to support graduate students’ unique wellbeing needs.
At UBC Okanagan, workshops such as “From Surviving to Thriving” focus on helping students develop resiliency and enhance their ability to cope with stress, while “Connecting the Dots” focuses on equipping student leaders with the resiliency skills they need as they transition from post-secondary school, into careers.
To support faculty and staff mental health, HR has initiated low-barrier mindfulness training programs free to all staff and faculty, such as the 30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge, and will be expanding mental health literacy initiatives by launching The Working Mind in 2020. Not Myself Today,an evidence-informed approach to workplace mental health focuses on reducing stigma and fostering a safe and supportive workplace environment.
“I hope we continue to grow” Hambler expresses. Not only in terms of a larger UBC community becoming aware of Thrive and seizing the opportunity to participate, but also for more schools to adopt a Thrive model. “We’ve always been open to sharing resources so that more people can take a creative approach to what we’re doing with Thrive and they can create a version works for their community.” This year, North Island College and the University of the Fraser Valley will join in celebrating Thrive.
Here at UBC, we recognize that when people thrive as individuals, our community flourishes. Thrive is a time for everyone to discuss and learn about mental health, contributing to an environment that supports faculty, staff and students to achieve their full potential in teaching, learning, working and research.
If you would like to participate in a Thrive event, you can check out the list of activities here.
Do you have a wellbeing example or research project to share?