Research into the impacts of the inaugural rollout of the WellMates programme at Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University has shown promising results and outlined ways to strengthen its delivery, including taking it online.
The positive mental health and resilience programme, developed by Lincoln University, is being launched for a second year at Massey after researchers found it to have significantly benefited participants.
WellMates is designed to promote mental health and wellbeing to first-year agricultural students, many of whom fall in the young adult category.
Recent studies have shown farmers are prone to experiencing burnout, and young people between 17-24 are particularly vulnerable in this community. This group is often underrepresented in mental health promotion strategies despite making up a quarter of farmer suicides.
School of Social Work senior lecturer Dr Nicky Stanley-Clarke, who played a pivotal role in bringing the programme to Massey, has been among the researchers studying what effect WellMates is having.
She said the research has shown WellMates is having a positive effect in increasing awareness and building upon existing knowledge of mental health.
“We conducted surveys on participating agricultural students before and after engaging in the programme, as well as a control group of agricultural students in the same year who didn’t attend. Students who participated in WellMates showed greater mental health and wellbeing knowledge than students who didn’t. WellMates helped them build their skills and improve their confidence in advocating for themselves and others.”
A second round of funding from Massey Lincoln Agriculture Industry Fund (formerly known as Massey – Lincoln and Agricultural Industry Trust) has provided the opportunity for WellMates to also be offered online this year.
“We’ve worked with the learning designers here at Massey to translate the content from in- person courses into a module embedded within a learning platform such as Stream. The team has been fantastic at ensuring it’s engaging for our distance cohort by including pop- ups, videos and scenarios. Our Young Farmers facilitators have recorded voice-overs to guide people through the module,” Stanley-Clarke said.
An interesting trend that appeared in the pre-programme survey was the number of students who presented with optimism bias, she said.
“Many students tend to underestimate the possibility of experiencing stressful situations, believing those scenarios are unlikely to happen to them or will resolve without the need for support services. We learnt from our research that peer-to-peer connection was found to be really important and can help undo this type of thinking.”
WellMates was initially run as a two-hour conversation led by Lincoln students who flew up to deliver the programme.
Stanley-Clarke said this year they’re partnering with Massey’s Young Farmers Club to improve connection and combat optimism bias.
“Members of the club have volunteered to be facilitators and deliver the programme. Students will get to hear from people like them about how important it is to take steps to manage your wellbeing and to know how to access support which helps break down stigma, particularly around the ‘tough farmer’ ideal. When you see others like you having that conversation, you’re more likely to join in and be engaged.”
Other changes to be implemented in the programme include reconsidering the timing of the programme within the semester and ensuring it’s embedded into the course.