Gaining perspective on mental health and wellness

With Maggie Shamro (Nursing faculty member)

Whether it is a family member, friend, colleague or even one of your students, it is estimated that mental illness will indirectly affect all Canadians at some point in their lives.

The conversation about mental health is as important as ever.

For Maggie Shamro, advocating for mental health and wellness has involved over 10 years as a registered nurse with a focus on psychiatry and mental health. Her passion for helping others has extended into nursing classrooms and labs at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).

Teaching year one and three nursing students, Shamro focuses on breaking down the stigma attached to mental health, to better prepare students to address these issues in professional practice.

Recently, Shamro welcomed an honorary guest speaker — Ginny Dennehy — to her class. Dennehy (a former Nursing student herself) shared her story, interacted with students, and passed along valuable advice for the future healthcare providers. Her message – be resilient.

For Dennehy, resiliency has involved moving on after the loss of two children, starting the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, raising nearly $7 million, and spreading a message of hope (Click here to learn more about Ginny Dennehy). Speaking from experience, Dennehy spoke about the choice to build resiliency and integrate it into your life to help cope with mental health issues.

For nursing students, mental health is an issue that can manifest in practice or their personal lives — or both. Building strategies to integrate resiliency into both their personal and professional lives are concepts that Shamro reinforces with her curriculum.


Q & A with Maggie Shamro

What do you enjoy most about being a faculty member in nursing?

Definitely my students and my colleagues. Our nursing students constantly motivate me to be a better nurse, to learn more and to be a positive force for change within our healthcare system. Their enthusiasm and energy is very contagious! I also feel so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a professional, knowledgeable and caring group of colleagues. Working with a group of nurses is so interesting – because we genuinely care for one another and the work that we do. I so appreciate being a part of this faculty as I feel encouraged and inspired every day. I don’t take this for granted!

What was the main focus of your master’s research? How does it help your teaching practice?

My master’s research focused on anxiety in nursing students and strategies nursing educators can use to address this anxiety in classroom and clinical settings. This has had a significant impact on my teaching practice as it has changed how I view anxiety and how I structure my classroom and clinical experiences, and how I communicate with students. This research has also inspired me to become more of an advocate for student mental health and wellness in general and to engage in discussions about this with my colleagues.

What is your nursing background?

I am a registered nurse and have been working in psychiatry and mental health for 10 years. I have worked in Prince George, Vancouver and Chilliwack. I have worked in inpatient psychiatry units, in psychiatric emergency response, and in the community. My interests in this field are typically anxiety and mood disorders as well as early psychosis intervention.

I have recently begun teaching anxiety groups in the community with a focus on mindfulness and acceptance therapy. Needless to say I could talk about mental health all day long!

How did you first learn of Ginny Dennehy’s story?

I had heard of the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation before I actually knew Ginny’s story as I use the resources from the foundation’s website on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I read the news article about Ginny receiving an honorary degree from UFV that I put the connection together.

How do you use the resources of her foundation?

I refer to the foundation’s website on a regular basis as there is a really helpful list of resources on this website for people working with and/or living with mental health concerns. Since meeting with Ginny, I have become more interested in the “Jack Project” that her foundation is a part of and hope to bring some of these resources to UFV students. I am also interested in another initiative that her foundation is involved in that will allow people living with mental health concerns to connect with a psychiatrist or care team through online discussions. It is all very exciting!

More information about the Jack Project can be found at:

How did students respond to the in-class visit from Ginny Dennehy?

I was very impressed with the students who met with Ginny in class. They (and me as well) were captivated by her story and were so interested in the work of her foundation. They asked some great questions about the initiatives being developed through her foundation and asked about the mental health concerns that she feels are the biggest issues for today’s university students.

How does mental health impact UFV Nursing students specifically? What tools are these students equipped with to help alleviate these issues?

Nursing students have higher levels of anxiety than any other student group. It would be interesting to see if this stat applies to UFV Nursing students as well – but certainly we see high levels of stress and anxiety within our student groups. Students are introduced to the counselling and support resources available to them right from their first semester, we have regular student forums with faculty and students meeting to discuss concerns and questions, we have small clinical groups that allow for more one on one faculty-student time as well as we discuss stress and coping concepts regularly throughout the program.

How does your curriculum incorporate mental health? How does this help students on a professional/practical level as well as personal?

In our curriculum, mental health is discussed in terms of monitoring our own fitness to practice. It is talked about in terms of advocating for our patients and our community’s mental health and wellness. We also discuss mental health as a way to build resilience and foster a connection and a sense of purpose to our practice. Personally, I also regularly discuss mental health and wellness concepts in my classes and clinical sessions to help break down the stigma and remind students that it is ok to talk about and think about these issues. For me, incorporating some mental health concepts into the curriculum allows me to stay well, to keep perspective and to stay enthusiastic about my practice.

It also allows me to be an advocate for the mental health of my students and my patients and to speak up for change within the faculty, program and our community as a whole. Considering my students’ mental health and wellness allows me to build connections with them and to work more closely with them as they progress through their nursing practice.