Published on 11 February 2014
A University of the Sunshine Coast PhD study has used the power of positive text messaging to alleviate the stresses faced by first-year university students.
Health Promotion PhD student Jane Foster said preliminary findings were indicating that SMS (short message service) was an effective tool for boosting the mental health of USC students who participated in the study in 2012.
In an innovative twist, elements of Ms Foster’s research have been incorporated into USC Theatre’s upcoming production of Hamlet.Psyched (26-28 February).
The contemporary take on the Shakespearean play explores the mental health issues of the main characters through different forms of theatre and media.
Ms Foster, 57, of Buderim, said she enrolled in the USC degree after teaching in schools for 35 years and running a stress management centre in Melbourne.
“My aim is to increase emotional resilience among all students and I’m very passionate about it,” she said.
Her study evaluated a program called MyTERN (Take Emotional Responsibility Now), where students watched a short movie, read a manual and received daily text messages.
“The texts were based on a metaphor, where you are the driver, only you control your steering wheel – therefore you can’t control anyone else’s, and every road you drive down is an emotion,” she said.
After one semester, results were collected from surveys, interviews and SMS feedback.
“There were significant positive changes in the students’ wellbeing and a decreased score in psychological distress,” Ms Foster said.
“Further analysis revealed a feeling of connection and a sense of control within a large number of students. They felt better mentally and physically and performed better academically, encouraging them to continue at university.
“The study indicates that equipping students with a skill to reframe the daily stressors of university and life may increase wellbeing and resilience while reducing distress, and may result in increased student retention.”
Ms Foster is voluntarily continuing the MyTERN service, which now has several hundred followers. “You can’t stop stress but you can teach people ways of handling it, as well as positively transforming it,” she said.
USC Theatre’s Hamlet.Psyched will be performed at Chancellor State College Theatre, Sippy Downs, on Wednesday 26 February (5pm), Thursday 27 February (5pm and 8pm) and Friday 28 February (5pm).
— Julie Schomberg