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Launch of first-ever Canadian youth mental health platform will transform research and treatments

CBRF News, News October 06, 2022
Youth Mental Health Platform_RBC Future Launch_Power Corporation_Brain Canada
Photo courtesy of Foundry BC.

A pioneering youth mental health project will enhance Canada’s overall understanding of youth mental health needs and advance new assessment and treatment approaches. 

Each year, one out of every four youth in Canada needs mental health services, making an initiative such as this urgent and critical for the well-being of our young people.

The “Canadian Youth Mental Health Insight (CYMHI) Platform” powered by RBC Future Launch, will use open data, machine learning and other methods to improve communication between youth and families, researchers, clinicians and other service providers with diverse mental health experiences and specializations. 

A specialized research team has been awarded a $5.13-million grant to create this platform to optimize mental health with and for youth across Canada. Generous funding has been provided from RBC Future Launch, Power Corporation of Canada, and the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada, through Health Canada, and Brain Canada.

Led by Dr. Sean Hill, Director of the Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics, and Senior Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the team brings together diverse organizations across the country including academic institutions, community-based mental health services, hospitals, and youth and family advisories from Foundry, Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, and other integrated youth services.

The Insight platform will provide an interactive web portal for youth, family members, clinicians, service providers, researchers, and policy makers to access shared data, analytics, and AI tools for optimizing mental health care. The portal will enable users to find data and connect insights from community and school prevention programs, youth mental health services, and clinical research studies. The portal will also provide access to AI-based services to help users navigate mental health services, personalized tools for monitoring mental health, identifying risks, and recommending services, and an interactive atlas of youth mental health service demand and availability to guide service providers and policymakers.

 “Through this project, we are providing a state-of-the-art informatics platform that serves as a foundation to improve mental health for, and importantly, with youth across the country,” notes Hill. “It will facilitate high impact research and the development of youth mental health approaches that would otherwise not be possible.”

“The CYMHI is a fantastic development to empower youth and youth-involved initiatives to take ownership in paving the way for future mental health service implementation,” says Suchayte Bali, Youth Engagement Coordinator at Foundry. “At a grassroots level, this can allow for many youth-led not-for-profit organizations to garner an understanding for which supports are needed in their communities, now backed by machine learning data from across Canada.”

“Right now, 9 out of 10 provinces are funding services with research components, British Columbia can’t learn from New Brunswick, and Ontario is missing evidence from Saskatchewan and so on,” says CYMHI leadership team member Steve Mathias, Executive Director at Providence Health Care and leader of Foundry, a British Columbia network of centres that offer young people health and wellness resources, services and supports both in person and virtually.  “It is about bringing everyone together to share and exchange what we are living, and learning.”

Mental illness disproportionately affects young people between the ages of 15 and 29 worldwide. It accounts for approximately half of the overall burden of disease in this age group, making it the leading cause of disability in Canada.

“More than ever, brain research is critical in helping us, as a community, recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its effects on the brain and our mental health,” says Dr. Viviane Poupon, Brain Canada President, and CEO. “We must invest in projects like these that will lead to concrete impacts on brain health for youth in Canada.”

“The stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionally impacted the mental health of young people in Canada. With so many children and youth still struggling, it is essential that we accelerate our efforts to ensure that young people have access to appropriate supports when and where they need them,” says The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health. “This ground-breaking mental health platform will continue to improve youth mental health services by listening to youth in order to base our response on a much better understanding of youth priorities, needs and treatment approaches.”

“It’s important to us that youth across Canada have the best opportunities to thrive and reach their fullest potential,” says Mark Beckles, Vice-President, Social Impact and Innovation, RBC. “Through our partnership with Brain Canada, we’re focused on increasing and accelerating access to services for youth who are facing mental health concerns, while facilitating digital solutions for practitioners and researchers.”

“At Power Corporation we recognize how critical it is to strengthen access to mental health services and supports for young Canadians and their families, wherever they live. We are proud to be able to support the Canadian Youth Mental Health Insight (CYMHI) Platform.  This advanced digital platform and pan-Canadian partnership between researchers and practitioners promises to fill gaps in support and ultimately enhance the quality of youth mental health care in every region of the country,” says Paul Genest, Senior Vice President, Power Corporation of Canada.

This project was awarded funding through the 2021 open call for applications to the Brain Canada Youth Mental Health Platform, powered by RBC Future Launch, with generous support from Power Corporation of Canada.

Funding for the Brain Canada Youth Mental Health Platform has been made possible by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada Foundation.