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York U leads team to establish $5.45-million national mental health training platform focused on diversity

York U leads team to establish $5.45-million national mental health training platform focused on diversity

York U leads team to establish $5.45-million national mental health training platform focused on diversity

Prof Rebecca Pillai Riddell will lead DIVERT Mental Health, a research and training platform designed to support a more inclusive and accessible approach to mental health

TORONTO, March 31, 2022 — Canadians from marginalized backgrounds tend to suffer the worst mental health outcomes, research has shown.

People who are racialized, disabled, and/or LGBT2SQ+ disproportionately face barriers to accessing, and feeling included within, the mental health-care system.

And diverse Canadians are not well represented among university professors who train students in programs that require an understanding of, or a focus on, mental health, such as clinical psychology, social work, medicine, nursing and occupational or physical therapy. Moreover, what is taught in universities is often not informed by lived experiences of marginalization.

Such is the status quo that a bold new training program led by a York University psychology professor seeks to disrupt. The Digital Inclusive Virtual and Equitable Research Training in Mental Health (DIVERT Mental Health) platform, which will receive $2.55 million in federal health funding announced today, has been designed to change the mental health system in Canada by training students and early-career clinicians on digital and virtual systems grounded in the principles of accessibility and inclusivity.

In addition to the federal funding, granted through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), DIVERT Mental Health has worked with partners to receive $2.4 million in computing resources from IBM, as well as over $500,000 from NGO partners.

Rebecca Pillai Riddell, of York University’s Faculty of Health, will lead the national research training platform.

The project also draws on the expertise of eight other principal investigators from six other institutions across Canada: Patrick McGrath (Psychology, Dalhousie University), Samina Ali (Pediatrics, University of Alberta), Alison Crawford (Psychiatry, University of Toronto), Ruth Green (Social Work, York University),  Annette Majnemer (Occupational Therapy, McGill University), Amanda Newton (Pediatrics, University of Alberta), Rita Orji (Computer Science, Dalhousie) and Lori Wozney (Mental Health and Addictions, Nova Scotia Health Authority).

In addition, four non-for-profit organizations, Indigenous Friends360º KidsStrongest Families Institute and Strong Minds Strong Kids Canada are also supporting the project, alongside an additional 24 co-Investigators from across other Canadian and non-Canadian universities.

“To truly disrupt Canadian mental health, it is critical to focus on accessibility and inclusivity.

Pillai Riddell says: “To truly disrupt Canadian mental health, it is critical to focus on accessibility and inclusivity.  By creating a more diverse clinician-scientist base in digital and virtual technologies, we are building a system that will be led by both individuals from diverse backgrounds and individuals who have learned about diverse backgrounds — leaders that will be better equipped to affirm and support the needs of patients who have different lived experiences.”

The DIVERT Mental Health funding was tied to a larger CIHR funding initiative, the Health Research Training Platform (HRTP) pilot program. CIHR announced it would be directing more than $31 million over six years to 13 unique training programs that bring together researchers from different hospitals and universities to increase Canada’s capacity to conduct research on specific disease areas and health challenges.

“The DIVERT Mental Health platform represents an important opportunity for Canada to step up and lead the way in research and training that will have a positive, transformative impact on the mental health our communities,” says Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “This considerable investment for a York-led initiative signals the critical need for an integrated, transdisciplinary approach to mental health and healthcare in general that is supported by technological innovation and disruptive research and training.

“The DIVERT Mental Health Platform exemplifies York’s commitment to help transform the health and well-being of our communities through an innovative medical-training model,” adds Asif.

Among HRTP’s key priorities is the pursuit of inclusive research, such as respecting Indigenous ways of knowing, incorporating sex- and gender-based considerations in research and recognizing unconscious bias, all of which will be pursued by DIVERT.

“In a time when relying on scientific evidence has never been more important, our government recognizes the need to invest in the highly qualified heath research talent this country depends on to create the scientific knowledge we will need in the future,” Health Minister Yves Duclos said in a government release.”