York research team launches Mindfulness Virtual Community project

A Mindfulness Virtual Community (MVC) research project out of York University’s Faculty of Health officially launched its second phase on Nov. 22 with a Knowledge Translation Breakfast to share the project with the greater York community.

The Mindfulness Virtual Community is a Canadian Institutes for Health Research-funded, student-centred, evidenced-based, mindfulness-based resource to support mental and physical well-being on campus that aims to improve the mental health of students who are experiencing stress, anxiety or depression.

The principal investigators are Professors Christo El Morr and Farah Ahmad of the School of Health Policy & Management and Professor Paul Ritvo of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science.

Front row, L-R: Polly McFarlane, director, Personal Counselling Services; Louise Hartley, director, York University Psychology Clinic; Professor Christo El Morr, School of Health Policy & Management and principal investigator; and Professor Farah Ahmad, School of Health Policy & Management and principal investigator. Back row, L-R: Professor Yvonne Bohr, Department of Psychology and LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research; Courtney Cole, founder and CEO, forahealthyme.com; Professor Rahim Moineddin, Department of Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto; Professor Paul Ritvo, School of Kinesiology & Health Science and principal investigator; and Professor Amin Mawani, Schulich School of Business

Representatives from York’s administration, the York Federation of Students, Student Community & Leadership Development, the colleges and others were on hand for the launch, which took place at 320 Bethune College. The project’s IT partner is Courtney Cole, CEO of ForaHealthyMe.com. Co-investigators include Dr. Yvonne Bohr (Faculty of Health, York U), Dr. Manuela Ferrari (McGill U), Dr. Amin Mawani (Schulich, York U), Dr. Kwame McKenzie (CAMH) and Dr. Alan Wai-Lun Fung (NYGH). Partners, collaborators and stakeholders include students’ representatives Aziza Ibrahim and Hanah Fekre (SAHMPI), VP Students Office (York U); Karen Dubeau (VentureLab); Dr. Gordon Flett (LaMarsh, York U); Ms. Jennifer Hamilton (CACUSS); Dr. Louise Hartley (Psychology Clinic, York U); and Dr. Polly McFarlane (Personal Counselling Services, York U).

The aim of the launch was to share current research, demonstrate how the first phase of the research has informed the content and structure of the platform, and get students excited about using the platform.

“Our project is student centred, and we have collaborated with groups such as SAHMPI (Student Association for Health Management Policy & Informatics), HSI (Healthy Student Initiative), participants and volunteers, dons and other partners like SOS on campus, and we are trying to engage everyone related to or concerned with students’ mental health on campus,” said El Morr.

The project was developed to support York University students’ mental well-being through an evidence-based eHealth solution that includes the following key components: mindfulness principles and practice; cognitive behaviour therapy approaches; and a student-centred virtual community.

The project website is available at studentsmentalhealth.com and a video on the project is available at youtu.be/kJAMZgN2N-Q.

During the launch, Ritvo discussed the psychological aspect of the research study and noted there is less of a desire from students to seek face-to-face support, which drives the need for an alternative channel.

Ahmad reported there were eight student focus groups with 55 per cent of participants being female and 45 per cent being male; 46 per cent born outside of Canada and 54 per cent born in Canada.

Most students reported feeling comfortable sharing their experiences, but had concerns about facing online distractions if using an MVC. From that information, the research team developed for the MVC platform student-centred modules including topics such as stigmatization, student life and study habits, relationships (family and romantic), body image, keeping up with a rapidly changing world and procrastination.

Students also identified key advantages for the MVC as being able to access the service anonymously, creating a safe environment, a service that is convenient, helpful and relevant, and an experience that is enjoyable and does not feel like work.

Cole presented the technologies used to develop the MVC platform and a succinct overview of the user interface.

There are four arms to the next phase of this this project (RCT): Interventions – Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy; Intervention – Mindfulness Virtual Community; Access to Educational and Mindfulness Modules; and Control Wait List.

The research team is now reaching out to students interested in participating in the next phase of the project, a randomized trial on mindfulness approaches to well being. Those interested in participating must email the MVC gmail account (mindfulatyork@gmail.com) or text 416-707-7531 to confirm eligibility for the study (participants must be 18+ and registered as an undergraduate at York). Then, the team will arrange to sit-down with the student, and explain the consent forms and purpose of the study.

Participation requires an eight-week commitment, beginning Jan. 9, 2017.

Students will be compensated 2 per cent URPP, or will receive 2 per cent course credit when possible or $50.