U of R researchers offer a new, online program to help Saskatchewan post-secondary students experiencing anxiety and depression

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: October 2, 2020 2:20 p.m.

The UniWellbeing Course teaches techniques for managing anxiety and depression, and includes materials relevant to students’ experiences.
The UniWellbeing Course teaches techniques for managing anxiety and depression, and includes materials relevant to students’ experiences. Photo: Pixabay.com

There is no question that our lives have been affected in many different ways since the global pandemic began early in the year. With more than 34 million infections and more than one million deaths across the globe, COVID-19 has hit the world hard, creating devastating health, social and economic challenges along the way.

Among the most affected are post-secondary students, who, in addition to pursuing their studies in various fields, have also had to adapt to studying from home, using new technologies, and going without the traditional university experience. Add in the increased financial challenges and the situation has become increasingly stressful for many.

Researchers from the Online Therapy Unit at the University of Regina are doing their best to help by offering the UniWellbeing Course, an online tool designed to bring much needed mental health support to post-secondary students in Saskatchewan who are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress.

“Many people who have depression and anxiety never seek treatment, but do have access to the internet,” says Vanessa Peynenburg, the principal investigator. “The online therapy course was designed in response to the widespread need for access to mental health treatment. Because depression and anxiety commonly co-occur, the course is designed to address both concerns.”

Peynenburg is running the program as part of a PhD research study being conducted under the supervision of Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos, U of R Professor of Psychology and one of Canada’s leading scholars in Internet-delivered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (ICBT).

“The mental wellbeing of students is critical for them to achieve their academic goals. This course is similar to the WellBeing Course, which is an eight-week ICBT program offered by the Online Therapy Unit. But the UniWellbeing Course is shorter. It’s a five-week program designed to accommodate student schedules,” says Dr. Hadjistavropoulos. “It includes techniques for managing anxiety and depression, and includes material that is relevant to students’ experiences.”

The service is offered free to any post-secondary student in Saskatchewan. According to registration data, 30 per cent of current participants are from the University of Saskatchewan, 60 per cent are from the University of Regina, while the remaining participants are spread among other post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan.

Current students have provided positive feedback about the course: “I learned a lot about myself as well as the symptoms I was experiencing. It was a great learning tool that has already started helping me in my daily life.”

“I learned a lot of techniques I didn't know before, and I was also encouraged by hearing stories of other students who had taken the course and improved their wellbeing.”

“It didn't require huge blocks of time and was manageable to work through even while taking university classes.”

The UniWellbeing Course is designed for those who:
  • have symptoms of depression or anxiety, and are registered in a college or university in Saskatchewan;
  • are 18 years of age or older; and
  • are comfortable using and have access to the internet.

The online therapy course is made up of four easy to understand lessons and takes five weeks to complete. The lessons consist of educational materials based on cognitive behavioural therapy, case stories about other students with similar concerns, along with Do-It-Yourself guides to help students practice the skills they learn in the course. Students are assigned to an online therapist, who offers weekly support using a combination of secure emails and telephone calls.

The UniWellbeing Course complements many of the other offerings from the Online Therapy Unit including, Wellbeing for Mental Health, Wellbeing for Chronic Health Conditions and Pain, and Alcohol Change. This package of proven treatments is what has given the Unit an international reputation for excellence in online therapy.

If you have questions about — or wish to apply for — the UniWellbeing Course, please contact Vanessa Peynenburg by email (Vanessa.Peynenburg@uregina.ca). You can also call the Online Therapy Unit at 306-337-3331 or email them at online.therapy.user@uregina.ca.

For more information, please visit: https://onlinetherapyuser.ca/uniwellbeing.