HALIFAX – First-year business students are the focus of a study underway at Saint Mary’s University that will examine their transition to university alongside their mental health.
Michael Zhang, an associate professor in management science at the Sobey School of Business, is the lead investigator of the research study that will follow 460 students through the year.
The research centres around Transitions, a book authored by Dr. Stan Kutcher. It provides information for students on issues such as how to manage the academic workload in university, relationships and sex, money, stress management and mental health disorders.
“Our goal is to improve our students’ life skills, including their mental health literacy, with the hope to improve their long-term academic and social success,” Zhang said.
“As faculty members, we have seen hundreds of cases on campus. I have many heartbreaking stories but we all understand the mental illness, the mental challenges have created significant challenges for university students.”
Zhang will survey the business students three times over the year: once to get a baseline of their understanding of mental health issues, then to assess their mental health literacy after reading Transitions and again a few months later to see if they have retained the information.
A similar study was done at Dalhousie University last year but it only assessed students once.
“In the Saint Mary’s study…we will be able to have a much better understanding of the impact this simple resource has on students, looking not only at their knowledge and stigma reduction but hopefully also being able to actually measure their help-seeking,” Kutcher said.
The study will also look at the students’ grades and the dropout rates to see if there is a correlation with their understanding of mental health issues.
Kutcher said young people face mental health challenges around the time they start university.
“They have a host of challenges they may not have previously encountered. As they arrived on university and college campuses, those institutions are being challenged to help meet their needs,” he said.
“We wanted young people to do two things. One is to learn some skill sets that they could use to address the new challenges they were facing in post-secondary school. Secondly, to learn about mental disorders, decrease the stigma of mental disorders and improve their own help-seeking in case they needed help.”
First-year business student Mike Sampson, 17, is participating in the study and said he understands that mental health needs to be maintained similar to physical health.
He has found the Transitions book useful.
“There’s plenty of information there. I know I’ve gotten caught in some stereotypes before so it’s good to help get rid of those,” he said.
“I think I know enough I can help avoid mental health problems myself.”
Zhang said the research is important to help universities and colleges learn how to better support their students and help them with their academic workloads in addition to their mental health.