Putting young people at the centre of transformations in care
Like a kid growing up, the field of child and youth mental health is changing substantially, and CAMH research is contributing on many fronts.
Compared with 15 years ago, there is now widespread public understanding that young people can experience depression and other mental illnesses, and that addressing mental health early is key, says Dr. Peter Szatmari. It has been shown that half of all cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Intervening in childhood and adolescence may prevent mental illness or lessen its impacts over a person’s lifetime.
Even before the importance of child and youth mental health was widely recognized, CAMH was leading research to improve mental health among young people. This work has informed government policies and services, helped pinpoint the biological underpinnings of illnesses, advanced evidence-based treatments and created new types of services.
CAMH scientists, young people and their families are partnering in research and co-designing solutions. These collaborations are having on-the-ground impacts: new youth mental health clinics are opening, offering psychotherapy, employment, education and housing services. As next steps in tailoring interventions to young people, CAMH researchers are conducting studies on matching effective treatments to children with disruptive behaviour, and identifying how autism spectrum disorder differs between girls and boys.
Neuroscientists specializing in children are using increasingly sophisticated, data-driven approaches to integrate analysis of different data types, and are targeting the brain with promising innovative treatments, such as combining brain stimulation therapy and brain training exercises for youth with hard-to-treat depression.
“The transformation in care is happening,” says Dr. Joanna Henderson. “It’s in its early stages, and there’s a long way to go to make sure changes are sustained over time—which is why research and evaluation are so critical.”
A timeline of CAMH impacts in child and youth mental health research
Student survey launched
CAMH researchers launch the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) in 1977, focusing initially on substance use and adding the first mental health indicators in the 1990s. Results inform provincial policies, such as the School Mental Health Strategy and public health campaigns. OSDUHS is now the longest-running student survey in Canada.
Tackling LGBTQ2S youth homelessness
CAMH research highlights challenges faced by LGBTQ2S youth, who make up a large proportion of homeless youth. To address the issue, the Alberta government approves all six key recommendations in a provincial strategy report in 2015. Alberta is the first province to make such a major commitment, including funding for specialized housing and provincial staff training.
Evaluating youth mental health courts
In 2016, five years after Ontario’s first youth mental health court opens, CAMH research shows the model is succeeding in supporting young people with mental illnesses, who are over-represented in the criminal justice system. The courts are improving access to treatment, leading to greater and more timely engagement in mental health services, and ultimately positive legal outcomes for these youth.
Brain changes across disorders
An innovative study published in 2016 in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows common brain changes in children with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. The findings show the value of examining multiple disorders
at the same time to uncover shared biological factors that may explain overlapping symptoms across these disorders.
Evidence-based depression treatment
The best clinical practice guidelines for youth with depression are identified by CAMH’s Cundill Centre for Child and Youth Depression, in a field that has lacked a consistent, evidence-based approach. The team goes on to develop a treatment decision aid for health care professionals in 2017.
CAMH research is using mobile and wearable technology to study youth depression, and is developing and evaluating an app to improve care. To identify the key components to ensure that youth mental health services are effective, a new study will engage 1,500 young people, family members and service providers throughout Ontario.
A growing provincial, federal and global focus
Frayme begins as a Canada-led, international knowledge-sharing network to improve youth mental health and substance use services. The network of health care professionals, youth, family members, policy makers and researchers aims to share evidence and identify gaps where research is needed to transform care.
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