Third-year women and gender studies student Shawn Clouthier created Courage Box, a subscription service to support mental health. (Photo credit: Lesley Porter)

Hope, shipped to your door

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their life.

One University of Saskatchewan student-turned-entrepreneur is hoping to lessen the burden of mental health issues with a new subscription box service called Courage Box.

Subscription boxes have taken off in recent years, where customers can set up a monthly shipment of anything from comic books to pet treats to fancy patterned socks.

Created by third-year women and gender studies student Shawn Clouthier, Courage Box is a similar subscription service aimed at providing strategies for those with anxiety and depression to deal with their illness.

Clouthier started Courage Box in 2016. She recalled going through “an awful mental health period” that included dropping out of school, quitting her job and moving home. During this time, she started to look for a subscription box with self-help elements for mental health. She ultimately came up short and, with encouragement from a friend, decided to make her own.

While it may have been a hard time for Clouthier, something good came out of it.

"It created opportunity for me to do something like this because I didn’t have anything else to do,” she said.

She invested some of her birthday money and joined Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, a non-profit organization which provides resources for women-backed businesses in the province. The organization connected her with a business advisor and helped her craft a solid business plan. From there, she got a loan from Futurepreneur—a mentorship company for young people starting businesses—and crowdfunded the rest to get Courage Box off the ground. From idea to product, the process took about a year.

“It took longer than I thought—I was kind of naïve,” Clouthier said with a laugh.

Each box has a theme and is created in consultation with a mental health professional. The first box, which shipped in February, had 61 subscribers from across Canada (as well as one American subscriber). The box contained tools to assist with mood tracking and accurately naming emotions, and reciting positive affirmation and coping statements.

Going forward, Clouthier would like to broaden the reach of Courage Box. Expanding to other campuses is top-of-mind; she is conscious of shipping costs, which can be prohibitive. (Saskatoon and area residents have the option to pick up their boxes at the USSU Help Centre in the Memorial Union Building.)

A subscription costs $40 per month. If possible, she’d like to make Courage Box more affordable, perhaps through sponsored or donated boxes.

“I do think that your mental health is worth the investment, but people with mental illness are disproportionately affected by poverty, so it can be difficult for a lot of people to afford,” she said.

Clouthier acknowledges that Courage Box isn’t a replacement for professional help, but is more of a supplemental resource—shipped to your door, no less.

“I don’t think anything can really replace one-on-one time with a trained professional,” she said. “But it’s an additional resource for people to access, especially if the idea of accessing these resources is really daunting, or if you’re really busy.” 

Visit usask.ca/wellness-strategy and click on Resources for a listing of campus resources available to staff, faculty and students.

Fast facts about mental illness

  • The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is over three million.
  • Approximately eight per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
  • By age 40, about half the population will have or have had a mental illness.
  • Almost one half (49 per cent) of those who feel they have suffered from anxiety or depression have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
  • Mental health problems and illnesses cost the Canadian economy at least $50 billion per year.

Sources: Canadian Mental Health Association; Mental Health Commission of Canada

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