University of Waterloo students Tina Chan and Alaaddin Sidahmed realized the lack, so they created the PASS kit, which stands for Panic Anxiety and Stress Support kit. Chan and Sidahmed first conceived the idea for the 2015 Big Ideas Challenge, a pitch competition hosted by the University of Waterloo’s faculty of applied health sciences.
“We thought … so everyone carried around, or should be carrying around, a first aid kit, but they aren’t carrying around a lot of things that help their mental health. So we decided to roll with that idea and have the mental health first aid kit. After doing further research and getting advice from UW counsellors we put this together,” said Chan.
The kit includes an eye mask, earplugs, a stress ball, flash cards and a card with all of the mental health crisis hotlines in case someone needs help the kit cannot offer. The eye mask and ear plugs help reduce anxiety when outside influences such as loud roommates are being disruptive, while the stress ball and gum help keep individuals occupied in times of high stress.
The flash cards are a unique feature of the kit. Each card offers tips and exercises like muscle relaxation to help people work through stress and anxiety on their own.
“The flashcards are essentially just different tips and ideas for what you can do,” explained Sidahmed.
“They’re condensed because we realized although there is a lot of literature around mental health, most of it is pretty dense.”
The kit was distributed to first-years in the St. Paul’s University College for the pilot study to help students deal with their transition from high school to university, which can be a highly stressful time. Not only is it a significant leap in lifestyle and practices, but it is also happening in a period of time that is formative for students.
“During their times of need when help is unavailable, we offer a glitch-free solution to guide them away from unhealthy work behaviours and toward healthy ones,” Chan explained.
Rather than aiming to replace counseling services or professional assistance, Chan and Sidahmed both hope the kit will be able teach people how to manage and assist their own mental health needs on a day-to-day basis by practicing healthy coping mechanisms.
Spreading awareness is also one of the major aims of the PASS kit, as despite continuing efforts to bring the prevalence of mental illness to light, there remains a large stigma around mental health.
“If I’m using the kit and I see you using the kit, we have a common understanding even if we don’t talk a lot. We both know we’re dealing with something or we’re doing our best to get through it,” said Sidahmed.
Although only a handful of first-years at UW were included in the pilot study, Chan and Sidahmed are hoping to expand to Wilfrid Laurier University and the tri-city universities in the future.
“For a lot of institutions it’s definitely becoming an issue they don’t know how to manage maybe because the first solution people come up with is counseling. There is never going to be enough counsellors to meet the demands of students so there has to be something else in that period of time to assist students and that’s what we’re hoping the kit will do.”