York collaborates on new app to help women experiencing abuse 

Woman with two children, holding smartphone

A new app developed by a collaborative research team that includes York University Assistant Professor Karen Campbell aims to help Canadian women experiencing partner violence and abuse.

Karen Campbell
Karen Campbell

The iHEAL app was designed as a free, secure, bilingual resource for the more than 40 per cent of Canadian women who are victims of abuse, says Campbell, a registered nurse in York’s School of Nursing. 

According to the iHEAL team – which includes researchers and experts from Western University, the University of British Columbia, the University of New Brunswick and York University – only 20 per cent of women who experience intimate partner violence access formal support. 

“There are many barriers to receiving services, including shame, stigma, fears over privacy and anonymity, fear of the abuser finding out, or just not knowing where to start or what to expect,” says Campbell. “Furthermore, services can be hard to access with long waitlists, costs to women who require transportation or time off work, and some services do not meet women’s cultural needs.” 

To address these barriers, the team developed the private, secure and free app iHEAL, which is backed by two decades of research and was developed and tested with women and service providers. 

“The iHEAL app is intended to help women across Canada, who have experienced violence from a current or past partner, find personalized ways to stay safe and healthy while getting their basic needs met and reclaiming their power,” says Campbell. “Through an interactive platform, it offers users help with safe housing, food, health and well-being, child care, finances, legal options and builds a network of support.”

Features of the iHEAL app include risk and health assessments, grounding exercises and safety features to attend to women’s physical, spiritual, and emotional safety and well-being. The app also provides information about services that women may find helpful, with links to more than 400 of these resources across Canada, personalized to the woman’s province or territory.

iHeal app screenshot
A screenshot from the iHeal app.

“iHEAL is what we call trauma- and violence-informed: it’s designed to work with women where they’re at, to recognize the many types of stressors and traumas, including partner violence but also other potential violence and barriers that can be affecting their ability to plan their next steps,” says Campbell. “It emphasizes their strength and their successes in keeping safe, as well as looking for ways to build on those. It also takes into account complexity – of their life, and their options – and gives her control over what’s next.”

The app is designed for women but is also useful for friends and family supporting women. Women can use the app to help explain to others the health, social and financial effects of the violence. Those supporting women who are victims of abuse might use the app to find a way to approach a conversation about abuse. 

The iHEAL app is available in English and French online and can be accessed on a computer or downloaded to a mobile device. Other resources, including printable posters and stickers, are also available. 

The development of iHEAL is supported by funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, with contributions from Women and Gender Equality Canada.

Watch a video on iHEAL to learn more: