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Current Year Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Improving mental health and addictions treatment in Niagara

For immediate release – Oct. 3 (Welland) -- Family support plays a key role for people attempting to seek care for mental health and substance use problems.

This was one early finding from a series of pilot studies in the Niagara Region by researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), using Canada’s first mobile research laboratory to study mental health, substance use and violence problems.  

Study findings were presented today, as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, at a public forum in Welland. It is the first of ongoing meetings with the community. “We are not simply providing findings and leaving the community to figure out what to do” says CAMH Scientist Dr. Samantha Wells. ‘We are committed to working with communities to ensure that the findings are useful to them.”

The research was conducted in Port Colborne and Welland in 2011 as part of the Researching Health in Ontario Communities (RHOC) project, headed by Dr. Wells. RHOC is led by a multidisciplinary team of researchers who seek to improve understanding, prevention and treatment of mental health, substance use and violence problems in Ontario communities. RHOC is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). 

Among the four pilot studies were: 

The Consumer Journey. Approximately 60 individuals with mental health and/or substance use problems who had sought help for their problems -- “consumers” – shared their stories about accessing and receiving services in the Niagara area. An additional 25 family members of consumers participated. Transportation and financial barriers were highlighted as major factors affecting consumers’ ability to access needed care, as were long waitlists, lack of affordable counselling, and stigma. 

Despite these barriers, many participants had experienced elements of success. Family members played a key role in helping individuals obtain care for their problems. “By listening to the voices of consumers and family members, we learned a great deal about the lived experience of seeking and receiving care,” says CAMH Project Scientist Dr. Andrea Flynn, who-co-led this study with Dr. Wells and Dr. Nick Kates of McMaster University. “This information is integral to efforts to improve services for people who have mental health and substance use problems.”

Intimate Partner Communication and Conflict: “Young adults are at high risk of physical violence and injury,” says CAMH Senior Scientist Dr. Kathryn Graham, the lead researcher. “If we understand how and why relationships go wrong, this can help to identify strategies for preventing injury and psychological trauma and for disrupting the pattern of partner aggression and violence that develops in abusive and unhealthy relationships.”

Researchers interviewed 31 women and 25 men aged 19 to 29 about the types of conflict they had experienced in relationships, including physical and non-physical conflict. Some female participants in this study reported being the victim of serious abuse by a male partner. Among others, a substantial number described conflicts indicating a troubled or unhealthy relationship. These conflicts were often related to the mental health, substance use or addiction problems of one or both partners.

“Improving services for mental health and addiction can help to reduce such conflicts and negative health effects in these situations,” says Dr. Graham. Trust and jealousy issues also played a key role in aggression and violence in this age group, suggesting that these issues need to be a greater focus for prevention. 

Based on discussions at today’s forum, a final report and implications for the Niagara Region will be generated. 

“We are grateful to the communities of Port Colborne and Welland for supporting this research, including our local advisory committee, the study participants and the many residents who helped get the project going,” says Dr. Wells. 

The study results will also be used in a new project, called “Five Views on a Journey.” Building on RHOC, this project will incorporate multiple perspectives -- from consumers, family, service providers, the general public and health service use data -- to address ways to improve the overall system of care, by examining barriers to access and system flow.

Dr. Graham and systems expert Dr. Kristen Hassmiller Lich from the School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will be leading a community meeting this afternoon to kick-start discussions about today’s findings and priorities for understanding the system of services.

Media contact: Kate Richards; (416) 595-6015; kate.richards@camh.ca

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The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centres in its field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.  

CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. 

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