7. Focus on intent, not activity when designing services and strategies

The conventional approach of different professional groups prescribing different activities leads to multiple, sometimes conflicting, prescriptive advice. For example this might be one or another of: go to the gym, eat well, practice mindfulness each day, spend time in nature, etc.

Looking for a consistent answer, students are not often aware that the key is to seek what aligns with their own perspective on what strand of their positive health most needs attention at the time.

Without having a way to determine relevance of the range of prescriptions to their particular situation and priorities, a student may reject all information. Focusing on a student’s experience includes helping students to sort information coming from different sources for relevance to their situation and experience.

There is another problem with prescribing particular activities, and students describe a shadow side to such expert prescriptions of specific, generic activities: “We are already stressed by how busy we are and don’t have time to do everything that’s important. Telling us to spend time doing activities, an hour of exercise a week, 15 minutes of meditation a day, whatever – just makes wellness another thing to fail at.”

Implications for service and program delivery, measuring progress and impact

As noted, this toolkit relates to health-promoting and health-enabling environments. Using a positive health focus requires service and program delivery mechanisms to be aligned with that focus, and thus have important differences from those with an illness focus.

One challenge is the variability inherent in positive mental health. The underlying framework for this toolkit embraces this. The tools are focused on designing and operationalizing strategies which embrace this variability and complexity rather than trying to simplify it, to work with the lowest common denominator, or to try and establish a hierarchy of professional perspectives.