With societal levels of anxiety and depression climbing due to the ongoing pandemic, McGill Educational and Counselling Psychology PhD student, Stephanie Zito, saw a need to do some outreach. Zito, who is also a Faculty of Education alumna (M.Ed’20) used her digital prowess to provide social media posts, affirmations, and infographics, to advise people on some thought-provoking tips and tricks for improved mental health. Just eight months after launching @selfcarespotlight on Instagram, she has nearly 200,000 followers. (Self-care Spotlight can also be found on Facebook.)
“I would say my passion stems from own experiences with mental health coupled with everything I’ve learned throughout my graduate studies,” said Zito in interview. “Many people are struggling more than ever and need mental health support. I wanted to be able to bridge the gap between research and the public and provide people with the knowledge and tools necessary to support their mental health. I think that giving people with a sense of community and validating their experiences of mental health difficulties contributed to the success of @selfcarespotlight.”
While pursuing her Master’s, Stephanie Zito took on the role as a volunteer research assistant with Dr. Nancy Heath’s Development and Intrapersonal Resilience (DAIR) team, where she developed a love for research. She is currently working on several projects with the DAIR team, focusing on evaluating online resilience-building outreach for university students. With the pandemic prompting disruptions to in-person supports, being largely transitioned to online and remote mental health services and tools, the team is studying the effectiveness and benefits of these new resources. Additionally, the DAIR team is examining how institutions will implement these digital well-being tools in a post-pandemic world.
"There is a wealth of research surrounding enhancing resilience; however, there is also a tremendous gap between science and its reach to the general public,” continued Zito. “Translating this knowledge in an accessible way is essential in order to bridge this gap. Talking about our own experiences with mental health is also crucial to break down barriers around stigma and normalize help-seeking.” In discussing her own experience during COVID, Zito notes that “Many of us are facing similar challenges brought on by the pandemic including isolation, grief, and overwhelming levels of stress and anxiety. I have experienced this as well as noticed a shift in my motivation over the past year. My knowledge of resilience-building strategies has helped me recognize patterns of self-critical thinking and taught me how to be more self-compassionate.”
Zito reminds her online followers that “no strategy is one-size-fits-all" and that “Instagram is not therapy”, qualifying that her posts are intended to share information, tips, and reminders. Zito's Self-care social media profiles list a series of crisis resources for those that need more help in coping with mental health issues.