New, free video game to boost mental health in kids, teens based on TMU program
When Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) instructor and clinical psychologist Diana Brecher first started teaching students in the university’s counselling centre how to become more resilient, she had no idea where it would lead.
But there was so much demand for her teachings - it’s gone far beyond the centre where she first began.
In the last few years, she’s launched two undergraduate courses, created a four-week program that anyone can access (ThriveTMU), given guest lectures to students studying everything from fashion to engineering, and created a new continuing education course.
But perhaps the most unique adaptation of her research is a new video game called Thrivelandia (external link) that teaches kids and teens how to thrive.
“It far exceeds my hope and expectation. But it also affirms my intuition that we can all benefit from knowing what the research on mental health is telling us,” Brecher said.
Video game boosts mental health
Aimed at youth across Canada ages 10-17, the online video game is funded by Meridian Credit Union and produced by Psychology Canada’s Strong Minds, Strong Kids (SMSKPC).
Designed to help foster resilience - the game is free - with modules for kids, teens, parents and teachers.
“There is a mental health crisis for kids right now,” Brecher said. “This game doesn’t replace the help they might need, but could serve to fill the gap until they can access more support.”
It’s especially important as the effects of the pandemic continue.
“The pandemic has taken a drastic toll on the mental health and well-being of so many,” Brecher said. “That, plus the rise in homelessness, food insecurity, and so many of the major life stresses affecting families and people of all ages - the need for additional mental health support is huge.”
Mental health affects 1 in 5
Indeed, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, and by age 40, about 50 per cent of the population will have or have had a mental illness.
And among youth, the statistics are particularly striking: most people living with a mental illness experience symptoms before age 18 - and in Canada, only 1 out of 5 children receive appropriate mental health services.
“As adults, if we’re struggling, oftentimes, we can find ways to cope until resources are available. But what do you say to a child? That they have to wait six months?” she said. “This resource can be part of what helps them today.”
How it works
In the video game, participants gain key coping skills and strategies through games and challenges, with Brecher’s five pillars of resilience – self-compassion, mindfulness, gratitude, grit and optimism – woven through the various activities.
“We all have experiences that test us,” said Brecher, who is also a trustee of SMSKPC. “It’s how we deal with those situations that really determine the kind of future we will have, and this resource is designed to help youth build skills so they can flourish personally and academically.”
She adds that just as schools and various programs promote healthy eating and exercise, resilience training can also be empowering for youth, so that they’re more adept at handling challenges that may arise in the future.
40% of happiness is a choice
It’s important for any of us at any age to build our resiliency, Brecher said, because it can truly have an impact on our well-being.
Research shows that 50 per cent of our happiness is based on our genetic makeup (such as temperament), and 10 per cent is based on life circumstances -- which means that 40 per cent of our happiness comes from how we choose to live our lives.
“So, even if your genetics lead you to be less happy, and your life circumstances were challenging, 40 percent of your happiness is still completely up to you, by what you choose to do and the attitudes you bring to situations,” she explained.
Tool kit of top research
Brecher is quick to point out that all of her programs that teach people how to thrive are based on the top mental health findings from experts all over the world.
“I’m conveying what the field of psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness and meditation are saying about well-being. It’s a curation of what I think is most relevant. And I think if people know what they need, they can develop a strong tool kit, and empower themselves to improve the quality of their lives,” she said.
How to access Brecher’s programs
If you’re interested in improving your resilience, see below for how Thrivelandia and Brecher’s other various programs can be accessed:
Thrivelandia (external link) is free and available to youth, parents and teachers anywhere in Canada, with promo codes as follows:
- THRIVE-Y (for youth aged 10-17)
- THRIVE-Parent (resources for parents/caregivers of youth aged 10-17)
- THRIVE-Teach (for educators and professionals who work with youth aged 10-17 and to access ThriveLandia teacher resources and lesson plans that will support students’ academic resilience).
ThriveTMU is a 4-week resilience program for students, faculty and staff - but available to anyone.
- Thriving in Action (TiA)
- Thriving in Action is a 10-week program (available both in-person and virtually) that incorporates thriving and learning strategies and is intended for students. Part of TMU’s Community Wellbeing department, it is currently led by Diana Brecher and Venus Bali.
- In addition to the live programs, Thriving in Action was adapted into an online resource anyone can access.
- 1st-year course
TMU students can take the first year course SSH102, which is Thriving in Action for credit.
- Continuing education class
Beginning in Fall 2023, TMU’s Chang School of Continuing Education will offer the course, Positive Psychology (CPSY706)