How can we use technology to enhance or support child and youth mental health in Ontario — and, ideally, beyond?
This research challenge led to a partnership between MHRC and the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health in 2019 and the creation of the Child/Youth e-Mental Health Impact Grants, with another collaborative research project in the works!
MHRC and the Centre, like-minded organizations that embrace innovation and collaboration, co-funded three $100,000 research grants to advance evidence-based digital solutions that will help children, youth and families overcome barriers to seeking help.
Many high-quality, outcomes-focused research proposals were received and reviewed by an arm’s length Advisory Group, whose diverse membership included an IT consultant, a person with lived experience, program delivery professionals as well as researchers.
Three inventive projects were chosen for their potential for broad and deep impact:
Siblings of children with disabilities are at much greater risk for developing mental health problems, including social, emotional and behavioural problems, and are frequently overlooked when families are provided with services. Often siblings “suffer silently” due to feeling guilt and the need to be perfect to avoid adding stress on the family. SibworkS is a in-person group intervention that exclusively focuses on the cognitive behaviour of siblings. The six-week program strengthens their perceived social support, self-esteem, problem-solving skills and adaptive coping behaviors, while promoting positive sibling relationships. A randomized control trial showed that SibworkS led to overall improved emotional and behavioural functioning in siblings, with a medium to large effect post-intervention that was maintained through the three-month follow-up period. This grant will help to develop i-SibworkS into a virtual alternative that will be tested in three different cities in Ontario, with the ultimate goal of scaling its reach and accessibility.
Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) is an in-person, gender-specific program that teaches children ages 6 to 11 with behavioural problems, and their parents, how to make better choices “in the moment.” SNAP teaches boys and girls how to increase their emotional regulation and problem-solving skills. It is highly regarded as “the most fully developed and longest-sustained intervention to date for juvenile delinquents” and “the best evidence-based program for aggressive children with serious violent and chronic potential.” This grant will help to develop an accessible app version of SNAP to help children and families develop coping skills at home – more important than ever because of COVID-19. The research team will engage youth who have participated in the SNAP program to co-design the user-friendly app and its interactive programming. They will then pilot test the app among two cohorts of youth from both Northern and Southern Ontario, and track and evaluate its effectiveness.
The benefits of parent-led peer support groups are well-documented in the literature for children with disabilities: they provide a sense of belonging and help parents to better deal with the world and advocate for their children. However, for parents of children and adolescents with eating disorders, there are no reports that examine the acceptability, cost and parent outcomes (caregiver burden, needs and self-efficacy) of participating in a virtual parent-led support group. This grant will address this knowledge gap by establishing two virtual parent-led support groups, one in Northern Ontario and one in Southern Ontario. The investigative team, using qualitative and quantitative methodology, will track and evaluate the immediate and long-term impact of the group sessions on the participating parents and their children. Employing elements of caregiver groups, these parent-led groups aim to address social isolation, teach coping skills and instill hope; if successful, this group model could be scaled and made accessible to parents across Ontario and beyond.
Mental illness affects 1.2 million children and youth in Canada. In Ontario, 1 in 5 children and youth will experience some form of diagnosed mental health problem; yet 5 out of 6 of these children and youth will not receive the treatment they need. These numbers don’t even capture a significant group of children and youth who “fly under the radar” of diagnosis or detection.
Funding these three scalable projects will provide more support for children and youth at critical times in their development, increasing their opportunities for future success in school, personal relationships and career choices.
USING INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO COMBAT CANADA’S YOUTH SUICIDE CRISIS:
The narrative of Harry Potter to teach resilience to middle schoolers and
online group interventions to support youth living with psychosis
How do we support our youth to be more resilient and prevent instances of suicide? That was the impetus behind MHRC’s partnership with the Institute for Advancements in Mental Health (IAM) and the creation of the first-ever, Canada-wide Mental Health Innovation Prize.
Launched in fall 2019, the Innovation Prize attracted unique solutions to address a long-standing mental health crisis: that suicide still remains the second leading cause of death for young people in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention cites a positive school environment as one of the protective factors against suicide, along with peer support and self-esteem – all key elements of the work being done by our winners: Dr. Mark Sinyor and Dr. Christopher Bowie.
ABOUT OUR WINNING PROJECTS
Using the narrative of HARRY POTTER to teach coping skills and resiliency in elementary schools
DR. MARK SINYOR
A free three-month curriculum based on the third Harry Potter book – embedded with author J.K. Rowling’s own experience using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to overcome depression – teaches coping skills and prevention to students in elementary school. Sinyor and his team have been developing this curriculum based on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban over four years in partnership with educators, students and Google. Tested with an Ontario school board, the curriculum is being taught in Canada’s largest and most diverse school board: the Toronto District School Board.
With the help of Google Canada and partners, an online version of the curriculum is now being developed, with the goal of eventually rolling it across Canada and globally. Sinyor’s proposed research will expand this curriculum into an online format and the grant will examine its effectiveness by assessing students pre-curriculum and two periods post-curriculum (immediately after finishing and three months out). Sinyor’s research goal is to reduce suicidality, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve the well-being of students by teaching them self-awareness and coping behaviours in their formative years.
Giving remote communities a BOOST by integrating cognitive behavioural therapy with peer support
DR. CHRISTOPHER BOWIE
Be Outspoken and Overcome Stigmatizing Thoughts (BOOST), developed by Bowie and his team, is a group intervention that integrates cognitive behavioural therapy with peer support to improve internalized stigma, self-esteem and the quality of life for young people with psychosis. Co-created and co-facilitated by people with lived experience, the therapy consists of eight sessions delivered online over four weeks to individuals with psychosis living in rural or underserviced communities and will involve three provinces.
Bowie’s proposed research will expand this intervention: adding therapeutic methods that address suicidality, incorporating materials that family and friends of the person with psychosis can use, and doing follow-up assessments over the long term. His research goal is to examine how this group treatment for self-stigma affects suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
ABOUT OUR WINNERS
Dr. Mark Sinyor is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He is a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an Associate Scientist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute. His clinical focus is on the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, and he is the founder of PROGRESS (the Program of Research and Education to Stop Suicide) at Sunnybrook. His main research focus is suicide prevention and mental health literacy, and he has developed a curriculum for middle schoolers teaching distress tolerance using the Harry Potter novels. His research has been featured in Time, BusinessWeek, CBC’s the National and Radio One.
Dr. Christopher Bowie is Professor in the departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is also Head Consulting Psychologist for Heads Up! which is an early psychosis intervention program in Kingston, as well as a Clinician-Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. His research focuses on cognition and functioning outcomes in schizophrenia and mood disorders, with an emphasis on early intervention and development of novel treatments. He has been the recipient of several awards including the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Early Researcher Award and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation’s Independent Investigator Award.
ABOUT THE MHRC x IAM PRIZE CHALLENGE
This unique partnership between IAM, a community-based innovation platform, and MHRC, a leading national mental health research organization, highlights the urgency to develop solutions around the growing and urgent issue of youth suicide, especially among youth living with psychosis. This donor-invested prize of $50,000 each challenged leading teams in the innovation, research and health care communities to develop interventions and prototypes.
Alberta, Atlantic Canada and Ontario report increased levels of anxiety and depression that are the highest in Canada, while Quebec reports the lowest increase in both anxiety and depression levels. For those Canadians recently unemployed, 57% cite the negative impact of job loss on their mental health.
These and other key findings are featured in both the summary and full report of the survey “Mental Health in Crisis: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Canadians,” released on May 19 by Mental Health Research Canada.
MHRC’s survey has been designed to capture Canadians’ perception of their level of anxiety and depression, and to identify and evaluate the factors that influence mental health. This inaugural survey is part of a year-long effort to track the COVID-19 mental health crisis.
“We are committed to advancing impact-focused research to help Canadians achieve better mental health, especially through this pandemic. To inform stakeholders, governments and other partners in the sector, MHRC has committed to producing a series of surveys over the next year,” says Akela Peoples, CEO of MHRC.
In addition to the quadrupling of high levels of anxiety and doubling of high levels of depression reported earlier in the survey’s initial findings, MHRC’s survey shows:
“What our survey tells us is that COVID-19 is impacting the mental health of Canadians in notably different ways, and that Canada’s recovery will require solid data to inform policy-making and effective services and programs for Canadians,” says John Trainor, Chair of MHRC’s Board of Directors and Adjunct Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto.
The survey was conducted in both official languages by Pollara Strategic Insights for MHRC from April 22 to April 28, and engaged 1,803 Canadians 18 years of age or older and all provinces and territories.