York leads team to establish $5.45M national mental health research and training platform

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Faculty of Health Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell will lead a revolutionary, multi-million dollar research training initiative that will support a more diverse, inclusive, accessible and transdisciplinary approach to mental health research and training.

Rebecca Pillai Riddell
Rebecca Pillai Riddell

The Digital, Inclusive, Virtual, and Equitable Research Training in Mental Health Platform (DIVERT Mental Health Platform) received $2.55 million awarded by the Canadian Institutes for Health (CIHR) through its Health Research Training Platform (HRTP), an initiative that brings together researchers from different hospitals and universities to increase capacity to conduct research on specific disease areas and health challenges. The funding is part of the government of Canada’s $31-million investment in HRTP that was announced March 31. IBM Canada is providing an additional $2.4 million for in-kind computing, and $500,000 in-kind support is coming from non-governmental organization partners.

The DIVERT Mental Health Platform aims to disrupt the course of mental health systems in Canada by training clinician-scientist trainees across multidisciplinary fields including psychology, social work, pediatrics, family medicine, psychiatry, nursing and rehabilitative sciences. With the computing power and expertise provided by IBM Canada, the sophisticated learning platform will allow training to be delivered through a variety of free online innovations available to every undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral and early career research in Canada, regardless of discipline, with an interest in equity, mental health and new technology to advance their research and practice.

The platform will build capacity for more diverse ways of knowledge and drive transdisciplinary research for a better understanding of the mental health of children and families. It will also educate trainee and early career clinician-scientists on digital and virtual mental health interventions that are grounded in inclusive and equitable knowledge.

Amir Asif
Amir Asif

“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.

“Mental Health interventions that are being taught in training programs today are grounded in Euro-centric conceptualizations of well-being and pathways to mental wellness, taught predominantly by professors without lived experiences in marginalization,” says Pillai Riddell. “Moreover, our mental health system is heavily weighted to service the privileged. The need to increase primary care mental health accessibility through digital innovations is desperate. By harnessing expertise across sectors, geographic regions, disciplines and equity-seeking groups, we aim to rectify these gaps of inequity and inaccessibility.”

Ruth Green
Ruth Green

The project includes eight other principal investigators from six other institutions across Canada, including Social Work Professor Ruth Green from York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Patrick McGrath (Psychology, Dalhousie University), Samina Ali (Pediatrics, University of Alberta), Alison Crawford (Psychiatry, University of Toronto), Annette Majnewer (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). 

Four non-for-profit organizations – Indigenous Friends, 360º Kids, Strongest Families Institute and Strong Minds Strong Kids Canada – are also serving as core leaders, alongside 24 other co-investigators from across Canada.

The DIVERT Mental Health Training Platform consists of five main content domains:

  1. diverse ways of understanding and building mental health innovation;
  2. training in digital and virtual technology;
  3. implementation science;
  4. persuasive communication techniques and;
  5. leadership and socio-emotional skills.

DIVERT Mental Health brings together more than 80 partners across academia, industry, health service and NGO partners, and a youth- and family-centred model of co-creation. It will accelerate the number of mental health researchers trained in inclusive and accessible mental health innovations and support a truly integrated approach to health care that benefits all communities in Canada.