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Conducting a University Student Mental Health Needs Assessment Using a Participatory Action Research Approach

By: , , , , , , , , & Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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Student mental health is a growing area of concern within the post-secondary context, as many students report that their academic performance is affected by their mental wellbeing. This case study describes how the participatory action research approach was used to explore students’ experiences and perspectives of mental health at a large university through a needs-assessment project that spanned more than 2 years. Our research team engaged students as co-researchers throughout the project, involving them in the identification of research topics, data collection and analysis, and determination and implementation of actions arising from the research findings. The benefits of utilizing participatory action research to explore mental health issues on a university campus are manifold and outweigh the challenges that emerged throughout the course of the project. Balancing the power differences that often exist between researchers and participants and engaging students to co-explore a highly sensitive and personal topic were valuable strategies in assessing the mental health needs of the student population. Through our use of participatory action research, we believe the project was successful in achieving democratic, process, and catalytic validities. Based on our reflection of participatory action research as being an effective approach for exploring similar areas of inquiry, this case study discusses several practical considerations for implementing such an approach. Empowering students to collaborate on analyzing mental health issues and creating solutions for enhancing mental health can be beneficial for all those involved.

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Participatory action research

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