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Think Globally: CAMH partners with international agencies to improve mental health in lower income countries

Toronto - January 10, 2014 - The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), with funding from Grand Challenges Canada, is partnering with international agencies to help improve global mental health.

Each partnership has a common theme of building on innovative approaches and aiming for sustainable, scalable change. Yet the three projects are diverse – they will introduce mental health literacy in the school curriculum in Nicaragua, harness the success of entrepreneurs dedicated to social change, and make patients and families the core of efforts to support anti-stigmatizing hospital treatment in India.

A technology-enhanced, school-based program for youth in Nicaragua

With systemic problems such as an illicit drug trade, violence, and frequent natural disasters, the population in Nicaragua struggles with elevated mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse and family violence. Suicide rates in Nicaragua are among the highest in Central America.

Nicaragua students
A school-based project for youth in Nicaragua will teach strategies to promote mental health.

CAMH, in partnership with Dr. Andres Herrera at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Leon, will introduce a school-based project for youth that will promote strategies to combat these challenges.

“Youth in Nicaragua aged 15-24 have the highest rates of psychiatric illness, addictions and suicide in the country,” says Dr. Arun Ravindran, Chief, Mood and Anxiety, CAMH. “Youth at this age are very vulnerable but are also very resilient, which is why we are targeting schools as the base for service delivery and education. This program will help students boost protective factors to negative behaviours such as substance abuse, which youth often use to cope with mental illness and stress.”

The project will incorporate a culturally-adapted mental health literacy program into the school curriculum, and teachers will be trained to deliver it to students. A website will support and enhance curriculum and provide resources directly to students.

“In-class interventions have been found effective in improving knowledge of mental illness, coping skills and help-seeking,” says Dr. Ravindran. “The cost-effectiveness of this model is also important considering limited financial resources and human capital that can be apportioned to health care.”

Capturing the success of mental health innovators

Some individuals or organizations with very limited economic resources have radically outperformed expectations and had a major social impact. How do they do it?

This formula is what CAMH Clinician-Scientist Dr. Sean Kidd plans to capture. He will conduct in-depth case studies of six Ashoka Fellows. Ashoka is the largest international network of social entrepreneurs, pursuing innovative solutions to social problems. These fellows’ innovations have made inroads into changes in mental health in lower-income countries.

By identifying how they implement strategies and interventions, and generate and use resources, Dr. Kidd will develop a method aiming to cultivate successful social entrepreneurism to address mental health in other low-income contexts.

“This initial work of developing a strategy to propagate mental health interventions in low income contexts will put us in a position where we might then test its effectiveness – with the ultimate goal of helping to expand high impact, sustainable interventions in settings with few formal mental health services,” says Dr. Kidd.

A client-centred approach to recovery in India

Supporting anti-stigmatizing, evidence-based care underlies the partnership between the Indian Law Society and CAMH. This new project in Gujarat, India, builds on the success of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) QualityRights Tool Kit. 

Working in six hospital facilities serving almost 50,000 inpatients and outpatients per year, the project team will focus on improving facility environments, providing human rights training, building support programs delivered by non-specialists, and introducing policies to support anti-stigmatizing treatments and client-centred recovery. Three other facilities will serve as a comparison group.

An Internet-based platform will help deliver the training and create collaborative areas for service communities.

“CAMH has extensive experience and expertise in anti-stigmatizing, evidence-based care that will inform this project -- an initiative with global significance because of the exemplary collaborative and participatory involvement of patients and families at the core of the approach,” says Akwatu Khenti, Director of CAMH’s Office of Transformative Global Health.

The WHO QualityRights Tool Kit has been successfully applied in Spain, Palestine, Greece and Somaliland.  “Mental health services in India face many similar problems and barriers to quality care as Somaliland and Spain, and experiences of NGOs and mental health professionals working in Gujarat suggest that, with a sustained QualityRights intervention, outcomes could be substantial,” says project leader Soumitra Pathare, of the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, Indian Law Society.

For further information, please contact Kate Richards, CAMH Media Relations at (416) 595-6015

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, and one of the world's leading research centres in the 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.

Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada and is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in Global Health.

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Nicaragua students in classroom
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