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ICopeU- designing web portals for campus mental health

Over the past several years increased awareness has been brought to the issue of mental health on campuses.  This is a positive step forward when we know that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their lives, and that anxiety is the most common issue for students attending post-secondary schools.  While it is worth celebrating that Canadian campuses seem to be directing more resources into designing a campus that is mentally healthy, we should acknowledge that the university or college campus can be large and overwhelming to navigate. Even on smaller campuses students sometimes express difficulty locating the help they need. While students may be able to access medical services, seeking assistance for mental health concerns can be more daunting. This is especially true of decentralized or urban campuses which might not have easily accessible resources.

Even when resources are accessible, not all students wish to seek them out in person, or may not know where to begin.  Students may know that there is a problem with themselves or a friend, but they may not know how to get an appointment to see a counselor, know the phone number for a local crisis line, know what to say to a friend that might be suicidal, or know tools or coping strategies to deal with a panic attack at 3am.

The help and structure is there on many campuses to help students cope, but the gap might be getting students the right information,

in the right way, at the right time. mindyourmind, a national youth mental health program, has stepped up to offer a possible solution to this issue in the system of campus mental health.

ICopeU is an online platform created by mindyourmind.  For years, mindyourmind has partnered with youth and young adults to co-create mostly web-based tools and resources around the topic of mental health.  These resources are accessed by people in 195 countries, through millions of online interactions via mindyourmind.ca and mindyourmind’s other web platforms and social media accounts.

When an interested school decides to incorporate ICopeU into their campus mental health strategy,mindyourmind works with them  to create a customized ICopeU web portal which offers 24/7 access to resources and help, customized trivia games with campus info, interactive coping tools which are updated regularly, personalized messages to students, information on how to find help on your campus and in your community, school branding and a mobile companion site. It is currently being used by students in over 20 campuses across Ontario.  It works with the resources and information and structures that are already in place on campus, by delivering the right information to students in a timely and relevant way. Veronica Barahona was the Student Vice President of the Fanshawe Student Union the year that Fanshawe signed on to develop their ICopeU portal, and believes that “IcopeU offers many coping tools for students to help them through the post-secondary jungle…”

mindyoumind knows that young people often search online for information and support around mental health and wellness.  By increasing accessibility to good resources in digital formats, barriers can be overcome for students who may not otherwise seek out face-to-face professional help.  ICopeU combines the tried and true tools and resources from mindyoumind with good accessible information about already existing campus and community resources.  In doing this, ICopeU’s design can complement what schools are already doing to support students.  It is giving students fingertip access to reliable information about mental health and what their school offers in the way of support, safety planning tools and stress management for overwhelmed students in the moment that they need it.  The interactive tools, which are updated by mindyoumind regularly, are co-created with youth and young adults to be relevant and reflective of a young person’s experiences.  In 2010, mindyoumind completed a program evaluation that found that 65% of repeat visitors on mindyourmind.ca get help, which is well above the national average.  ICopeU provides easy access to tools which we know have the potential to significantly increase help-seeking behaviour:

“Being in college, I think that ICopeU is a really great tool for students.  Not only does it give you a way to explore issues that others deal with, but the interactive site lets you better understand that you are not alone if you’re feeling depressed, stressed, anxious…” – Janyel White XFM 106.9 Reporter

ICopeU is a good fit for schools that don’t have a comprehensive and easily accessible/intuitive web presence for students around health services.  De-centralized campuses in particular could benefit from the ICopeU design, by making the campus mental health center a web-based hub rather than a physical space.  It works best when the school and mindyoumind collaborate effectively to customize and personalize the information as much as possible to be relevant to the students at that particular school, and in that particular community.  Some current ICopeU clients have chosen to go beyond including campus and community supports that are explicitly about more prevalent student mental health issues (like stress and anxiety) by also including information like where the local AA organization is, sexual health resources, how to access the local food bank, domestic abuse services and where you might go to seek treatment for an eating disorder.

ICopeU addresses a need for under-resourced health teams.  It can be accessed day or night, and delivers information in formats that are relevant and culturally resonant, making it a potential complement and addition to a campus strategy for mental health.  View the ICopeU demo site here.