Students Mental Health Virtual Community: Results of a Focus Group
e-Health ePoster Library. El Morr C. Jun 6, 2017; 167117; EP08.02
Christo El Morr
Christo El Morr
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Purpose/Objectives: Anxiety, stress and depression are on the rise among post-secondary student. Yet, support for mental health concerns available on campuses are limited and may not address the vast needs for students on campus. A recent survey of 25,000 students by the Ontario University and College Health Association reported a rise in anxiety, depression and suicide attempts rates in Ontario: 65% reported experiencing anxiety; 46% reported feeling depressed, 13% had suicidal thoughts. Further, campus based counsellors report that they are overwhelmed with the mental health needs. Indeed, innovation is needed to address growing mental health needs on campuses. Given that mindfulness is a proven technique that decreases levels of stress, anxiety and depression when delivered online, our team aimed to develop a student centered, Mindfulness Virtual Community (MVC) that could be scalable at a reasonable cost once found effective. Our research team has received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), eHealth Innovation Partnership Program grant to develop the MVC and conduct a randomized control trial to test its effectiveness (lower depression, anxiety and Stress) and efficiency (cost reduction).

Methodology/Approach: In order to achieve this goal, we have conducted eight focus groups with students at York University, between April to May 2016, in order to elicit their mental health challenges, their online a behavior, and their perspectives about the development of an online MVC to address stress, anxiety and depression. In total, 72 students participated in the focus groups. The discussions were audio recorded and later on transcribed. All qualitative data was analyzed thematically using technique of constant comparison.

Finding/Results: Participating students' mean age was 23.38 (SD 5.82) years, 55.6% identified as females,58.3% were working for varying hours. The focus group qualitative data analyses uncovered two themes related to the design of the Mindfulness Virtual Community: (1) the need for a dedicated mental health Virtual Community (VC), and (2) its desired content and features. Students perceived that the campus mental health resources were either limited and not known to students. They perceived value in having a student VC for mental health. The main advantages that the student found in an MVC were anonymity, flexibility and sense of connectedness. Student have seen anonymity as a way to overcome stigma associated with mental health and cultural barriers. Besides, they have expressed that online access to mental health resources allow flexibility in terms of commute and comfort (e.g. anytime, anywhere) and to be connected with peers having similar experiences. The main potential challenge of an MVC was cyber bullying, and thus students have seen the presence of a moderator as an essential requirement.

Conclusion/Implication/Recommendations: A Mindfulness Virtual Community presents definitive advantages from the point of view of students, such as, anonymity, flexibility and connectedness. A moderation of the online forums is a must to guarantee a safe environment.

140 Character Summary: Mental health challenges among students can be addressed by a moderated Mindfulness Virtual Community providing Anonymity, Flexibility, Connectedness.
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