Worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the complexity of student mental health on post-secondary campuses. This shared global challenge has also highlighted an urgent need to address an existing critical gap in student mental health research.
As one of four winners of the Connaught Global Challenge Award, Professor Kristin Cleverley, a leading researcher in student and youth mental health and chair of the University of Toronto’s Student and Youth Mental Health Research Initiative, aims to bridge this gap by building a robust and visionary international network of expert researchers and students.
“This is an exciting opportunity to bring together international researchers with shared expertise to move the state of the science on student mental health,” says Cleverley, who is also an assistant professor at the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. “Leveraging the foundation, we have built through the strategic initiative, will enable us to focus on co-designing and collaborating with students and researchers on a global scale to solve our shared challenges.”
Cleverley is also one of the inaugural recipients of the Connaught Global Research Impact Program Award (C-GRIP), a new funding stream to support international training opportunities. Both the Connaught Global Challenge Award and C-GRIP aim to amplify U of T’s contribution to important global issues facing society, by advancing knowledge, developing innovative research-driven solutions, and facilitating new opportunities for student mobility.
Currently, Cleverley and her team are in the process of engaging with fellow experts in student mental health from Kings College London, the University of Sydney, and National Taiwan University. In the next year, these partner institutions will come together at a Global Consensus Conference, an opportunity for students, student affairs professionals, and leading international researchers to identify shared mental health research priorities.
In addition, funding from both awards will help set the stage for an ongoing Global Speaker Series and the development of Student-Driven Research Training Modules, culminating in a week-long Summer Research Institute. Over the next several years, this international partnership will also facilitate opportunities for Global Research Exchanges focused on student mental health research.
“There is much we do not know about the pathways to and through post-secondary education, the relationship between mental health and academic outcomes, and the efficacy of existing mental health programs and services,” says Cleverley. “With the Connaught Global Challenge Award and the new Global Research Impact Program, we are now also uniquely positioned to create a talent pipeline of the next generation of student mental health researchers.”
Lexi Ewing, a PhD student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) who studies psychological risk and resilience among post-secondary students, collaborated with Cleverley and her team on the development of the grant as part of the co-design process.
“Students are integral to the understanding of student mental health – we are not only emerging researchers, practitioners, and advocates, but we also navigate life in post-secondary school every day,” says Ewing. “This co-design process has set the stage for what the grant will become – a platform for meaningful movement on student mental health research that also offers students opportunities for professional growth.”
Cleverley notes that these emerging international partnerships will have a profound impact on scaling up current work around student mental health, including leveraging the foundational work of the Student and Youth Mental Health Research Initiative. This, Cleverley believes, will transform the way we understand and support student and youth mental health, leading to high-impact and long-term global outcomes.
“This shared global challenge emphasizes the need to co-design evidence-based solutions and recommendations with and for students,” says Cleverley. “Students are our future researchers; they will be the ones to lead mental health research forward.”