It’s not unusual to feel alone in an age of social distancing, but the sense of isolation can be especially acute for university students who are living away from home, juggling multiple responsibilities or are concerned about their future.
In an effort to further support students during COVID-19, U of T has partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to launch an online discussion board where University of Toronto students can share stories about how they are dealing with their new reality.
Rosa Dragonetti, a psychotherapist and project manager at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), says that, now more than ever, it’s important for students to look to each other for support since simply knowing others are facing similar challenges can relieve stress.
“A lot of times, when we’re struggling with a mental health issue or some stress, we often think: Why is this happening to me? Am I alone in this battle?” says Dragonetti, who is also an assistant professor at the U of T’s department of family and community medicine.
Students can join the online discussion board by using a U of T email address to create an anonymous username. Or, if they prefer, they can view topics and follow along without signing up. The discussion board can be accessed from anywhere – an important feature given that many U of T students are now spread across different time zones.
“We’re making it as simple as possible,” Dragonetti says.
The forum will be monitored by social workers who can volunteer advice and refer students to additional mental health resources, including CAMH’s comprehensive guide on mental health and the pandemic.
“It’s both a board where students can see their own peers are experiencing similar things - there’s a comfort in that - and it also has the advantage of having appropriate professionals who can provide advice and reassurance,” says Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students.
With so many rumours swirling around COVID-19, the discussion board also provides students with fact-based information, Welsh adds.
“They have an evidence-based source of information to help them understand and get answers to their COVID-19 questions,” she says.
“It really is providing what I hope will both be an authoritative source and a source that is about supporting them with any anxiety or fear they might have.”
The forum has a straightforward layout, with a list of discussion topics that can be organized by date or the user who started the conversation. Students can post or comment between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, although the discussions can still be viewed outside of these hours.
Campus resources for all three campuses are listed in a sidebar, as are helplines for students in crisis.
The discussion board is one of many initiatives that is expected to come from U of T’s unique partnership with CAMH, according to Welsh.
“It shows that there are so many ways that we can be collaborating with CAMH,” she says. “This is a great example of why that relationship is so important.”