State of Mind Ireland: the design and evaluation of a positive mental health intervention among higher education students

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O'Brien, Niamh
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University College Cork
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Young adults are recognised as a vulnerable age group who carry the burden of mental health problems worldwide. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) observe that many students are experiencing mental health issues. HEIs, however, are also in a critical position to reach the young adult population group and promote positive mental health. Low levels of physical activity (PA) participation is observed among Irish higher education students. PA is positively associated with wellbeing. Multilevel interventions for both positive mental health and PA are recommended for wellbeing by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The purpose of this study was to design, develop, implement and evaluate a positive mental health and PA intervention, specifically tailored for the student cohort (aged 18 to 29 years old) in a large HEI in Ireland. The intervention, known as SOMI-HE, was designed using the principles of Intervention Mapping (IM). Data for the design, development, implementation, and evaluation of the intervention were gathered from participants (n=413), using a mixed-method research design. Statistical levels of wellbeing, resilience and PA (n=262) were measured using well-known validated and reliable questionnaires. Observational data was collected (n=151) using open-ended questionnaires, a Delphi technique, and focus group discussions. Intervention evaluation data was collected at three time points (pre, post, and retention). Results suggest that a structured mental health and PA education awareness intervention for Irish pre-service teachers may be warranted and that the IM planning protocol provides an empirical process that has the potential to create such interventions for promoting positive mental health and PA. Intervention evaluation results indicate a significant effect on participants’ wellbeing (t (120) = -4.27, p <.001), PA levels (t (126) = 3.91, p < .001) and motivational readiness for exercise change (χ2 (1, n = 131) = 6.9, p < p = .009 (2–sided). Qualitative findings from the intervention suggest a sustained long-term increase in PA and resilience skills for positive mental health and reduced stigma and barriers to positive mental health. Findings support the efficacy of positive mental health interventions to promote wellbeing and PA with higher education students, using the IM approach. This research highlights the benefits and potential of engaging higher education students with a behaviour change intervention that aims to promote and protect positive mental health.
Wellbeing , Resilience , Intervention , Mental health , Physical activity
O'Brien, N. 2020. State of Mind Ireland: the design and evaluation of a positive mental health intervention among higher education students. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.