Special Projects

  • Understanding Peer Support in Youth Mental Health Across Canada


    Young people in need of mental health services often face long wait lists, complicated pathways to care, and poor-quality services. Both evidence and experience show that it is critical, developmentally and socially, to address the mental health of adolescents and young adults; over 75% of mental health problems first appear in adolescence and young adulthood, but only 20-25% of youth in Canada with these challenges receive appropriate help.

    AOM is a national research project being conducted across Canada. Its objective is to improve the mental health of young people by making better care more easily available at the right time. Services provided at AOM sites are designed to address the main challenges of usual services: barriers, wait lists, engagement, and quality of care.

    The ACCESS Open Minds framework involves the creation of engaging and appropriate youth mental health services for young people aged 11-25 years old and their families and carers. Youth, families, and carers have communicated the need for engaging services offered from peers to peers to be part of the larger service framework. Both the ACCESS Open Minds network and framework value the inherent support that a peer with lived mental health experience can provide to a fellow community member who is experiencing their own mental health problem.

    The Mental Health Commission of Canada defines Peer Support as ‘the help and support that people with lived experience are able to give to one another. Key elements of peer support are built on shared personal experience and empathy, a focus on an individual’s strengths not weaknesses, and working towards the individual’s wellbeing and recovery’.

    According to ACCESS Open Minds, ‘evaluating peer support services is an aspect of best practice in care provision, and it ensures that the quality of services is continuously monitored, maintained, and improved’.

    This study will use qualitative methods to learn about current peer support work (PSW) and collaboratively conceptualize and document how to adapt existing work to strengthen its emphasis on youth engagement.


    Research Questions Include:

    • Do youth and service providers perceive PSW as an acceptable adjunct to the mental health services available at AOM?;
    • What are the principal mechanisms or key components of PSW that contribute to engagement from the perspective of youth and key stakeholders (peer support workers and service providers from AOM) for youth presenting for the first time at AOM?;
    • What critical components of PSW help facilitate engagement of a diverse group of youth including those who typically experience barriers to accessing and engaging in mental health services?;
    • What do youth and key stakeholders define as engagement (recognizing the need for services, agreeing to services and regularly attending mental health services at AOM?;
    • What dose (ranging from 1 to 4 sessions) of peer support is tolerable to youth at the first point of entry to AOM?;
    • What type of training activities have been developed (or are required) to prepare peer support workers to deliver this intervention in the proposed study?;
    • What models of mentorship and supervision are suggested for peer support workers? and;
    • How does the workplace environment need to change and adapt to integrate peer support workers in AOM sites?

    This study is being led by Dr Gina Dimitropolous at the University of Calgary and supported by the ACCESS Open Minds Network 

  • Indigenous Gender and Wellness

    Developed during CIHR’s Indigenous Gender & Wellness Idea Fair and Learning Circle that brought together Indigenous people and allies to develop project proposals focused on Indigenous gender and wellness the ACCESS Open Minds Indigenous Council was awarded  awarded a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Indigenous Gender & Wellness Development Grant, which will allow participating communities to explore, map & develop a program to build and strengthen healthy relationships in Indigenous communities.

    Nominated Principal Investigator: Gregory Brass

  • Youth Mental Health - Network Catalyst Grant

    In Canada, youth mental health and substance use services are delivered by a vast tapestry of providers spanning different sectors, including hospitals, primary care and community organizations. Currently, there is minimal standard data collection or evaluation metrics across these sectors, communities or provinces. Because of this lack of common evaluation, researchers, clinicians, services and funders have no clear picture of the state of youth mental healthcare across Canada, nor which treatment approaches and services are effective for whom.

    The Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) awarded a Network Catalyst Grant to address this challenge in the youth mental health sector, which is now compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This initiative is led by ACCESS Open Minds, with direction from Dr. Jai Shah to design and implement a common evaluation framework for youth mental health and substance use services, this grant will bring together:

    • AOM, operating in multiple urban, rural and Indigenous communities across Canada
    • Provincial IYS initiatives such as Foundry (British Columbia), Youth Wellness Hubs (Ontario), Aire ouverte (Quebec), and a new Alberta Integrated Services Initiative
    • Other local youth mental health community-based programs

    Read the full press release here.

  • Pathway for Rapid, Internet-based, Self-referral to Mental health services for youth (PRISM)

    Pathway for Rapid, Internet-based, Self-referral to Mental health services for youth

    Project Summary
    PRISM-ACCESS Open Minds is a services research project conducted in collaboration with the ACCESS Open Minds pan-Canadian network for youth mental health service transformation, community organizations (e.g., Kids Help Phone, mindyourmind), and Canadian-based health technology companies.

    PRISM-AOM aims to develop, implement, and evaluate the use of an online self-referral pathway to facilitate rapid and direct access to mental health services for youth.

    Through this pathway, youth with mental health concerns will be able to connect with, and refer themselves directly to a local team specializing in youth mental health care using their phone, computer, or tablet. Parents and service providers will also be able to refer a young person to mental health services via PRISM-AOM. Clinicians will be able to triage, track, and manage referrals through a secured platform.

    PRISM-AOM will be customized, launched, and tested in several Canadian healthcare settings participating in the ACCESS Open Minds network.

    Shalini Lal, Ph.D., M.Sc., B.Sc.O.T. (Reg.QC)

  • Future Skills Centre Collaboration

    In collaboration with ACCESS Open Minds, Foundry and Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth and Family Mental Health will implement this two-year project focused on helping 360 youth facing barriers due to mental health challenges enter the job market. The Future Skills Centre’s $2.32 million investment for this team (Leads: Drs. Joanna Henderson and Srividya Iyer) will provide an evidence-based basket of supports, including working with employers to promote positive workplace experience and knowledge. Learn more here.

Studentship Projects