A Collaborative Effort to Amplify Digital Mental Health Awareness and Access

By Dr. Lydia Sequeira

Concerns about the mental health of Canadians continue to grow, which is evidenced by national polling demonstrating consistently high rates of depression and anxiety over the last few years. Many Canadians are feeling they need mental health support but are not accessing it.

A Collaborative Effort to Amplify Digital Mental Health Awareness and Access

With long wait times to access specialty mental health, high costs of privately delivered mental health care, and cultural barriers, evidence-informed digital mental health tools and programs have emerged across Canada as a way to expand awareness and access to mental health support.

One such program is Wellness Together Canada, a nationally implemented mental health service that provides individuals with a range of services such as information and education, counseling, and community supports. Another national program, with its resources included in Wellness Together Canada, is Kids Help Phone — a national service focused on providing young people with mental health support. An example of a more local effort is Nova Scotia’s Mental health and Addictions website (MHAhelpNS.ca). At the heart of these free digital mental health resources is collaboration across a multitude of organizations, including Infoway.

Infoway’s recent 2022 Canadian Digital Mental Health Survey identified that while many Canadians (57 per cent) are interested in accessing technology to support their mental health and wellness, only 13 per cent have used these services. Telephone (42 per cent) and websites (32 per cent) are the modalities that are most used for this purpose, and individuals report a positive experience with 87 per cent finding the service easy to navigate, and 84 per cent indicating satisfaction with the care they received.

We did a deep dive to understand exactly which populations use digital mental health in Canada and found that users were more likely to have a higher education, live in non-rural communities, have digital health literacy, speak English at home, and have regular family physician access. These findings suggest there is still a gap in awareness or access to digital mental health services and overcoming these barriers — especially within underserved populations — is critical to improving mental health support.

At Infoway, we’ve also collaborated with leaders in the Canadian mental health space to help reduce these barriers. Collaborations led by CAMH researchers have produced the digital mental health implementation toolkit, a helpful resource to increase literacy for individuals with lived/living experience, clinicians, and mental health administrators. Other research has studied key factors required to build and implement digital mental health tools, including conceptualizing meaningful digital consent, and understanding patient privacy perspectives.

To improve awareness and navigation of the vast number of mental health apps present in the Canadian marketplace, Infoway has collaborated with the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), who have recently finalized the Mental Health App Assessment Framework for Canada. This framework was created following a public review and consultation with 200 Canadian and international stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. MHCC is interested in turning this framework into an online digital app review engine. Under MHCC’s leadership, Infoway is also advising on Canada’s first e-mental health strategy through an advisory committee. With the advancement of technology and virtual integration in the delivery of mental health care and services, this initiative will help define a strategic focus for the future of digital mental health within Canada.

You can learn more about mental health care in Canada and you can access additional resources on the Mental Health Week website. Want to get involved and share your thoughts about the importance of mental health support? Download the toolkit and use #MyStory on social media.

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About the author
Dr. Lydia Sequeira

Dr. Lydia Sequeira

Dr. Lydia Sequeira is a mental health informatics researcher, and a CIHR Health System Impact Postdoctoral Fellow at Canada Health Infoway and CAMH’s Digital Mental Health Research Lab. Her work is focused on improving mental health care and service delivery through technology.