Occupational Therapy

Student Calm Room

Welcome to the University of Alberta Calm Room!

A mental health space for students, by students


The Calm Room is a pilot project supported by


You should know ...

There are currently two Calm Rooms on University of Alberta (U of A) campuses (Edmonton North and Calgary). These two non-academic spaces (no studying or homework allowed!) are intended as proofs of concept, meaning that if shown to be successful and well-received, we would like to help other students create similar mental health spaces across campus. This is just a first step, and represents one group of occupational therapy students’ contribution towards what we hope is a profound cultural shift in the perception and value of mental health self-care. 

We believe that a healthy campus culture is one where mental health self-care is both normalized and accessible, and in occupational therapy, we believe that physical spaces can and do inform objective performance and subjective well-being. 

What is the Calm Room?

The goal of the Calm Room is to support students’ mental health and wellness while attending the U of A. This is done by providing a safe physical space to help students to decrease anxiety and regulate stress levels. A key point of the room comes from long-established occupational theory research and theory, namely that “doing,” or meaningful activity, is therapeutic. It one way of taking care of ourselves which caters to who we are outside of our studies; we aren’t just students! We are siblings, children, parents, partners, friends, artists, planners, creators, athletes, musicians, employees, volunteers, advocates, and more. Who we are at school is an important part of our lives right now, but it’s not all of who we are. It’s essential that we look after other areas of ourselves. 

In the Calm Room, come take a breath, come take a break, come be creative and reconnect with who you are outside of what can seem like an endless cycle of “study, exams, eat, sleep, repeat!”

Note: if you need more urgent mental health assistance, please call 911 or visit this U of A Support Services page for additional phone numbers and sources of support.

 
 

Calm Room FAQs

  • Where can I find the Calm Room?
    In Edmonton, the Calm Room is located on the North Campus, in Corbett Hall, room 1-79. In the Calgary satellite campus, it is located in DTC 030.
  • When is it open? How do I access it?
    Unless otherwise posted on our Facebook page (UofA Calm Room), the Edmonton Calm Room is open daily from 8am-4pm. Currently, a spare key is kept in the Occupational Therapy office (CH 2-64), which can be signed out by any student during regular office hours.
  • Who can use it?
    All U of A students!
  • What can I expect when I go to the Calm Room (Edmonton Location)?

    When you walk into the Calm Room, there is an area for you to remove your shoes (please wear socks or bring indoor shoes, as students are maintaining the room’s cleanliness!), hang up your jacket, and leave your backpack. Come into the room, and you can have a seat, have a nap, or just a quiet moment to yourself. Alternatively, you can participate in any of the activities we have in the room, including:

    - Virtual reality (lots of programs to choose from!)
    - Puzzles
    - Lego
    - Books
    - Paint
    - Board games
    - Clay
    - Origami
    - Yoga mats
    - Sensory items (Buddha Board, fountain, kinetic sand …)
    - And more!

    Light refreshments are available in the room, but we would appreciate if you did not bring outside food into the Calm Room as the circulation is poor and some students have sensitivities. If you have your own travel mug, please bring it so that we don’t need to use as many disposable cups.

  • What are the entry/exit and anxiety surveys?
    When you enter the Calm Room, on your right, you will see QR codes linking to these surveys and also paper copies if you would prefer to complete a survey that way. These surveys are optional, but highly encouraged as they inform the future development of this and other Calm Rooms across campus. Survey questions ask things like which activities you used while in the Calm Room, how much time you spent in the Calm Room, what your anxiety level was before entering and upon leaving the Calm Room, etc. All responses are anonymous.
  • Why is a Calm Room needed at the University of Alberta?
    The 2016 National College of Health Assessment (NCHA) for the U of A noted that while most students rate their health as very good or excellent, the three issues most likely to affect academic success are anxiety, stress, and lack of sleep. Rates of anxiety and other mental illness are increasing in post-secondary institutions worldwide (Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010). The U of A has implemented various efforts to support mental health needs of students, but options are limited and more mental health services and supports are needed. Specifically, there is no formal, non-academic campus space where students can relax and freely engage in mindful activities. We know that students tend to not only perform better academically, but also have a better overall experience and improved subjective quality of life when mental health needs are attended to (e.g. Eisenberg, Golberstein, & Hunt, 2009). The Calm Room is one way to assist towards this end.

    The Healthy University Strategic Plan, based on NCHA data and in collaboration with a number of U of A working groups, revealed the following statistics in their April 2017 (most recent data) final release:

    - “From a physical perspective, a large proportion of students are not engaging in regular physical activity, not making healthy eating choices, and not getting enough sleep. These factors all limit their ability to succeed academically.”

    - “From a mental health perspective, the survey results indicated that:
    - 2.1% of students reported having attempted suicide last year. Using recent enrolment figures (2.1% x 38,700 students) it can be estimated that 813 students attempted suicide last year.
    - 9.1% of students self-harmed (3,522 students).
    - 4.6% of U of A students reported having thought seriously about committing suicide last year (1,780 students).
    - 45.4% felt so depressed that it was difficult to function (17,570 students).
    - 39.6% felt that stress levels negatively affected their academic performance in the previous year (15,325 students).
    - 31.5% felt that severe anxiety levels negatively affected their academic performance last year (12,191 students).
    - 22.3% of U of A students felt socially isolated (8,630 students). Isolation is an important indicator in mental illness and threat assessment.”

    The Healthy University Strategic Plan also noted that these self-reported levels of mental health challenges by U of A students are comparable to those in the nation-wide reference group, indicating a more pervasive and widespread situation.
     
  • What is the role of Occupational Therapy (OT) in the Calm Room?
    In a practical sense, the Department of Occupational Therapy (and its home Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine) contributed substantially to the starting costs for this project. Also, OT students applied for grant funding, designed and set up the space, and are currently maintaining** it (e.g. keeping the room clean and stocked, facilitating communications amongst interested stakeholders and media, etc).

    Occupational therapists (and Occupational Therapy students) have specific education in skills needed to systematically evaluate complex situations and activities, and to adapt different activities and contexts to the specific people using them. We (MScOT students) appreciate the opportunity to give back to our school and to support our colleagues and friends in a meaningful way, and one that allows us to develop our technical skills and be more effective professionals post-graduation. 

    While sensory or “Snoezelen” rooms are not a new concept (e.g. Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, 2018), the OT perspective on the Calm Room is the deliberate inclusion of activity. Occupational therapy emphasizes the therapeutic value of “doing,” i.e. the ability to function in and engage with our environment in meaningful ways that are associated with wellness (CAOT, 2016). In deciding which activities to include in the Calm Room, we researched evidence-based practices, consulted stakeholders, and connected with similar initiatives already in existence (e.g. CASA Services). To promote accessibility and inclusivity, we implemented elements of universal and environmental design wherever possible. For example, we created wide pathways through the space (e.g. for individuals in wheelchairs), included sturdy chairs with armrests (e.g. for individuals with physical weakness), used contrasting colours (e.g. for individuals with visual impairments), and selected nature themes and tones as much as possible (it has been demonstrated that exposure even to artificial nature, such as photographs, is associated with decreased stress and an increased sense of wellness, e.g. Bratman, Hamilton, & Daily, 2012). We are now in the process of further researching and designing knowledge translation paradigms to ensure the most effective delivery of information to students and other stakeholders, furthering our long-term goal of improving student mental health and contributing to a culture change around how mental health and wellness are viewed.

    **Other students from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine (Physical Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology, and Rehabilitation Science) will be involved as soon as possible, now that the Calm Room is open and most logistics have been addressed
     
  • How much did the Calm Room project cost? Where did the money come from?
    Most of the funds came from a Heroes for Health grant (value of $5,000). This grant is funded by the U of A Healthy Campus Unit, through partnerships with the Alumni Association, Community & Campus Recreation, and Human Resources Services (Healthy Campus Unit, 2019). The grant is intended to “encourage[s] students, staff, and faculty to come together, think outside the box and work collaboratively to propose ideas for a healthier campus in four areas: social connections, physical activity, mental health, substance, [sic] and alcohol use” (Healthy Campus Unit, 2019).

    A group of first-year occupational therapy students applied for this grant; our grant was reviewed by a panel, and our initiative was chosen from amongst other applicants based on its feasibility, sustainability, and ability to meet established overall university wellness goals, broadly summarized as the need to “prioritize and sustain student, faculty and staff health, wellness and safety by delivering proactive, relevant, responsive and accessible services and initiatives” (Healthy University Strategic Plan, 2019).

    To support the beginnings of this project, the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine and the Department of Occupational Therapy also supplied funds ($5,000 total). Note that the $10,000 total revenues are being used to supply and maintain both the Edmonton and Calgary Calm Room locations, and money is reserved for future wellness events and initiatives. The majority of the virtual reality equipment was loaned to us at no cost (it was purchased by the Occupational Therapy Department as part of another study). Lastly, a requirement of the Heroes for Health grant is that we submit follow-up financial reports ensuring that our funding is being used as described in our application. To date, we are well within budget
     
  • How is the Calm Room different from a library or other study area?
    The Calm Room is a non-academic, on-campus space. Students live, study, work, and grow at universities, and the U of A recognizes that it is in its best interests to support student both academically and non-academically. For example, athletic centers, with free or reduced costs to students, promote increased physical wellness. The Calm Room similarly aims to support mental health and wellness in our shared university space; specifically, the Edmonton Calm Room cost less than $5,000 to set up.
  • Why is it in Corbett Hall? That’s not a very central location?
    The Calm Room project was started and is currently being maintained by occupational therapy students, and Corbett Hall is where all of our classes are held. By having the Calm Room close by, we can more easily maintain it (keep it clean, organize and host events, ensure snacks and supplies are always present).

    On-campus space for non-academic reasons is at a premium, and we were lucky to be able to use a research lab that is currently not being used. We hope that we can keep this physical space, but it is possible that we will have to relocate. This is one reason why it is so helpful for any Calm Room users to complete the brief entry and exit surveys: the more objective data and results we can use to promote the long-term use of this space, and to support the creation of other similar spaces on campus, the better! 

    (Also, the approximately 800 students in Corbett Hall don’t have many amenities and resources nearby. We don’t mind walking to other student spaces on campus, however walking to the library or gym isn’t possible between classes, so it is nice to have a relaxing space in the building where we spend so much of our time!)
     
  • Who are the students behind the Calm Room project?
    We are six first-year occupational therapy students, and we are all volunteers. Both personally and professionally, we all have a passion for supporting mental health in all U of A students.
  • Can I help? Can you help me set up a Calm Room in my Department’s building?
    If you would like to get involved in this project, or would like to start your own Calm Room in a place where you spend more of your academic time, please contact us. We would be very happy to help you create your own Calm Room, tailored to the goals, needs, and desires of the students in your department.