By Julie Shatto
This summer I’m excited to plan and execute an independent project for my Stretch Experience entitled “Brain Buddies”. Brain Buddies will be a community-based mental health initiative with the goals of providing accessible resources to Edmonton families and reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.
What was the inspiration for Brain Buddies?
We don’t have to look far to see that the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously impacted the lives of families in our community. Many families are experiencing added stressors such as social isolation, financial and employment instabilities, childcare closures, and limited health/social care access. It makes sense then that 44.3% of Canadian parents and 24.8% of Canadian children have reported worsened mental health since the pandemic’s onset (Gadermann, 2020). For children, this is particularly concerning, as early exposure to stressors can have long-term mental and physical health consequences. This reality, along with my desire to advocate for mental wellness, led me to the idea of creating Brain Buddies – a fun, socially innovative challenge with the goal of providing free, accessible, and socially distanced mental health resources for families.
What will be involved?
Knowing the effectiveness of both regular physical activity and social connection for maintaining mental wellness, Edmonton families/household units will be encouraged to participate in a 2-week “Brain Buddies” challenge. During this challenge, participants will complete a daily 20-minute family walk where they can safely discuss mental health and wellness topics. To do so, I will be collaborating with licenced psychologists to devise a list of conversational prompts about mental health for families to begin these conversations during their daily walks. After completing the challenge by tracking their walks either online or using the printable Brain Buddies workbook, participants will receive a Brain Buddies t-shirt as a reward!
To connect families with accessible mental health resources, I’ll also be creating a Brain Buddies website. On this website, not only will there be info about the challenge, but there will also be an easy-to-navigate list of mental health resources for individuals of all ages within the Edmonton area. The website will also include the stories/photos of families willing to share their experiences with Brain Buddies and how walking and talking with each other each day made an impact on their lives.
Finally, I’m working on creating a series of Brain Buddies cartoons. These cartoons should serve to increase mental health literacy within the community in a format that is accessible to individuals of all ages. I’ll be tying in my neuroscience background to explain physiological processes that underlie mental illnesses, for example. By emphasizing the neuroscience of mental health, my hope is that this aspect of the project will further remove the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Goals of my project:
In terms of social benefit, I believe that Brain Buddies has the potential to foster social connection during a time of isolation, as well as provide accessible mental health resources to Edmonton families and children. On a more personal note, I’m looking forward to using this independent project as a fantastic opportunity to practice the leadership skills that I have learnt in INT D 301 and INT D 306. So far, these skills have been super useful in helping me form connections with various community organizations and stakeholders in order to ensure that Brain Buddies can be as inclusive and impactful as possible.
Stay tuned within the next few weeks for more info about the upcoming Brain Buddies website and challenge this July. Anyone can participate!
Gadermann, A. C., Thomson, K. C., Richardson, C. G., Gagne, M., McAuliffe, C., Hirani, S., & Jenkins, E. (2021, Jan 12). Examining the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on family mental health in Canada: findings from a national cross-sectional study. BMJ Open, 11(1), e042871. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-042871
Julie Shatto is a honours neuroscience student in the Faculty of Science.