Sask Polytech nursing student promotes mental health awareness using applied research

Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

"You can connect with people on a personal level and really get to understand their needs."

As a young woman from a small farming community, Katherine Little knows the importance of mental health for farmers and youth. Throughout her nursing studies at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, she has witnessed the importance of mental health education.

Little, a fourth-year nursing student in the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing (SCBScN) program, initially was not interested in applied research.

“I wasn’t a fan of my first-year research classes,” admits Little, who grew up in Turtleford, about 220 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

But in her second year, Little was approached by Dr. Michelle Pavloff, Saskatchewan Polytechnic research chair for rural health, to assist with Sask Polytech’s Farmer and Rancher Mental Health (FARMh) initiative. This introduction to applied research sparked Little’s interest in mental health research and projects.

“Farming and ranching can be high-stress occupations,” says Little. “These individuals have higher risk of anxiety and depression compared to the general population. Farming and ranching families often face challenges that are beyond their control, so being able to incorporate effective support systems for these individuals has been a great success.”

For this project, Little assisted with research, writing manuscripts, and launching the new website.

The FARMh project is a patient-oriented research project funded by Sask Polytech, Saskatchewan Center for Patient Oriented Research, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and many other industry donors.

Sask. youth face barriers to mental health

Little also led an applied research project with YOUth Matter Canada, a Saskatchewan-based non-profit organization that has an ongoing research partnership with Sask Polytech. Little delivered a growth mindset workshop to parents, teachers and community members on supporting youth with their mental health.

She also analyzed data from surveys conducted with youth engaged in YOUth Matter’s Teen Talk Tuesdays. Her conducted research received third place in last year’s Sask Polytech Applied Research Student Showcase.

“The results indicated that the Saskatchewan youth who participated in the survey have mental health needs that are not being met.

“Some of the results included 100 per cent of respondents stating in the last six months they had experienced anxiety for longer than two weeks, 66 per cent felt sadness, loneliness and issues sleeping, and 55 per cent felt depression and worry. When asked about mental health support in their school, 55 per cent believe adequate support was not available,” Little shares.

While completing these applied research projects, Little adapted a passion to contribute to positive change.

Applied research has opened a lot of doors for Little, helping her connect with people across Saskatchewan. When asked what advice she has for other nursing students interested in applied research, Little says, “Don’t be afraid! There is so much more than just writing papers. You can connect with people on a personal level and really get to understand their needs. Being heard and being able to make an impact is such an amazing feeling.”

The Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing (SCBScN) degree program is offered in partnership with Sask Polytech and the University of Regina. Participating in applied research gives students hands-on experience to transition seamlessly into their chosen careers.

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Written by Rees Kachmarski, Sask Polytech student.