Ask questions, get answers

MyHealth Interactive Magazine, spearheaded by Darcy Santor, provides youth with accurate health and mental health information in a variety of interactive formats to improve health literacy and decision making.

by Sean Rushton

What is depression? How do I know I am depressed? Is it treatable? How do I get help? How do I ask for help? 

Questions about depression are surprisingly common among today’s young people. Current studies show that mental illness and substance abuse issues affect one in five school-aged children and youth. But those struggling with mental health issues often don’t know where to go for help or how to ask for assistance.

Fortunately, an interactive online health magazine pioneered by Darcy Santor, a University of Ottawa psychology professor, is reaching out through the Internet with a simple, but highly effective message to youth: Ask questions, get answers.

MyHealth Magazine (http://info.myhealthmagazine.net) is a health literacy program designed for young people, parents and teachers. Its goal is to provide youth with accurate mental, physical and developmental health information in interactive formats, to improve health literacy and decision making. Co-developed and directed by Santor, the project arose following the suicides of a number of young people in a family of schools in Nova Scotia and the schools’ subsequent challenges in developing mental health programs.

“We believe that promoting health and well-being depends on achieving a daily presence in the lives of young people,” explains Santor. “Universal access to current and timely information should be a part of going to school—for young people, parents and teachers. This means ensuring that MyHealth Magazineremains relevant and interesting, and that visitors are informed about what’s new for them on a regular basis.”

The MyHealth Magazine website operates on a password-protected subscription basis. Entire schools, school boards or community organizations can join and provide access to all of their students, teachers or members. Individuals can also subscribe to the magazine. Organizations or schools can customize the information displayed on the site, which includes pop quizzes, fact sheets, news bulletins, a “how-to” access help section, questions and answers, and personal stories. Moreover, with its unique infrastructure, MyHealth Magazine allows large numbers of young people to access a set of commonly held materials, resources, and components in English, French and Spanish.

Each month, the magazine focuses on a key health issue, ranging from the benefits of nutrition and exercise, to information about substance abuse, puberty, injury prevention, bullying, in addition to children’s rights and how to achieve academic success.

Officials at participating schools can also download monthly usage reports and anonymous results of an annual health survey of their student population, which serve to provide a snapshot of students’ physical and mental health needs, as well as providing information about the stigma associated with mental illness, and school safety. MyHealth Magazine is in various stages of implementation in more than 1,000 schools and community groups. In the United States, Santor works in partnership with Health Literacy Missouri, a non-profit corporation based in St. Louis that supports community organizations trying to improve health literacy in Missouri and across the United States.

Much of the program’s success to date is due to an ongoing partnership among participating schools, hospitals and community-based programs. When these groups see that the program responds to their local needs, Santor believes it becomes easy for them to get involved in making it work.

MyHealth Magazine is a really effective partnership for knowledge transfer,” says Santor. “We welcome and actively solicit feedback on existing materials as well as suggestions for new material. We also assist organizations such as UNICEF Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada in implementing and evaluating school-based initiatives.”

With more than 15 years of experience providing treatment and counselling to people aged 10 to 75 on a range of self-esteem, mood, interpersonal, academic, and work-related difficulties, Santor is a champion of facilitating early detection and help for health problems amongst youth.

“Whether you are a young person, parent or teacher, access to current and accurate health information is the first step in making good decisions about your health,” he says. “We now have a unique program that not only delivers engaging well-researched information in a variety of interactive formats, but which also works with schools and educators in a manner that is mindful of regional differences.”

MyHealth Magazine isn’t designed to address every aspect of a topic, but to act as a first step to becoming informed or to seeking further help,” says Santor. “It’s really all about asking questions and getting answers.” 

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