Thriving Faculty is a regular column highlighting individual or collective UBC Faculty who exemplify integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and/or communities. Thriving Faculty support others’ health and wellbeing in addition to making a commitment to their own self-care. This column highlights personal and professional stories of Thriving Faculty.
Read an interview with Dr. John Oliffe
Q. What are central challenges you face in your role as Faculty?
The toughest challenge has been protecting my time. Trying to anticipate and avoid the cul-de-sacs while choosing the avenues that will be of greater benefit to all and add to my energy levels. Teaching can add energy, as can analyzing research data and sharing those findings.
Q. Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning.
Our study of men’s depression focused on college men, and we were interested to learn that many guys are under enormous pressure to achieve academically amid trying to conceal their depressive symptoms. I think lots of guys buy into the idea of ‘passing’ as being well – and this can take multiple forms including alcohol and drug use, aggressiveness and being hyper-competitive as well as socially isolating for fear of being outed as having depression. Inversely, lots of guys also self-manage depressive symptoms effectively through physical activity and connecting with friends in ways that allow them to really talk about all the issues in their lives.
Our men’s depression website chronicles our work – and provides some insights about how it can be managed – as well as the diversity with which it can be experienced. www.mensdepressionhelpyourself.ubc.ca
Q. Are there any other insights you learned about college men and depression that you can share?
Being well mentally is the pre-requisite for bringing game academically. The flip is that mental illness adds a degree of difficulty to finding and sustaining academic success.
Q. Can you describe the practice of Men’s Sheds? Is there a parallel to Men’s Sheds that can be implemented in the context of Higher Education?
Men’s Sheds originated in Australia – where the government has invested in making sheds available to men who might be experiencing challenges around social isolation, job insecurity and/or illness issues. The sheds provide a workspace where men can come and connect with others as well as learn various skills and contribute to an array of projects. While there is no parallel in higher education, I am hopeful that we could thoughtfully consider bringing something like Men’s Sheds to UBC.
Q. Do you implement any strategies to support student mental health and wellbeing in the classroom/lab?
I think as a nursing faculty we are trained to be attuned to signs suggesting student stress and distress. So, in that regard I think as a collective we are well credentialed to thoughtfully guide student experiencing difficulties toward campus and other services.
Q. Can you highlight some of these signs? Do you implement any strategies/structures in your teaching that promotes mental health?
When grades begin to wane, and absenteeism or presenteeisim emerge – these are usually signs that something outside of my teaching is negatively impacting student success. Keeping things upbeat in class and having humour can be helpful – and asking open-ended questions to check if the student is okay are key strategies.
Q. Please describe the role of your own mental health and wellbeing in your teaching, research and service to the community?
I try to stay calm. My days of working from a platform of discontent (a strategy I used to prompt my tenure track hyperwork practices) ended July 1, 2013. My sense is that I may be relaxing a little more while still getting the job done. I was and am fortunate enough to have a great partner in life, and she has been a terrific person to be around – through thick and thin. The biggest tenure track challenge was being turned back by the senior appointments committee in 2007 (Assistant to Associate). I share that detail only to encourage others going through the tenure track process to never…never…never give up! The good thing about my current work is that I am moving from descriptive to intervention research – and I have great staff and collaborators to help advance the wellbeing of men and their families.
Q. What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as Faculty?
Wise faculty say: Never go to a meeting that does not have an agenda distributed at least 24 hours in advance.
Thoughtfully re-consider the 40%:40%:20% split as a percentage of your work week, not your entire week!
John Oliffe is Professor at the School of Nursing, University of British Columbia. His research is focused on gender and health, particularly men’s health. He is especially interested in masculinities and gender relations in the context of various men’s health issues including prostate cancer, depression and suicide, and smoking. For more information on his current projects and publications please visit www.menshealthresearch.ubc.ca.