Grant enables Lakehead to study adolescent mental health app

“We have an opportunity to turn the phones young people already have in their pockets into a positive resource,” says clinical psychologist

Dr. Aislin Mushquash, a clinical psychologist at Dilico Anishinabek Family Care and an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Lakehead University, has received a grant to study an early mental health intervention app for adolescents.

The SickKids/Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator Research Grant is $299,938 for three years and funds
a unique study aimed at improving the mental health of 12- to 18-year-old youth in Northwestern Ontario.

Mushquash and her team will conduct a randomized controlled trial to investigate whether the JoyPop app is an effective intervention for adolescents with mild to moderate mental health symptoms who are on the waiting list for outpatient care. The study will be conducted in collaboration with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care and Children’s Center Thunder Bay, two of the busiest organizations providing mental health services to youth in Northwestern Ontario.

“As psychologists, we talk about the downsides of excessive screen time,” Mushquash said. “But we have an opportunity to turn the phones young people already have in their pockets into a positive resource.”

Previous research from Mushquash has shown that the JoyPop app can help older youth develop better emotion regulation strategies and reduce anxiety symptoms, that users see value in the app, and that youth and service providers are open to integrating the app into the usual care. She said the primary goal of the next trial is to find out if younger youth seeking mental health services could also benefit.

The study will also examine differences across the gender spectrum and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, whether this early intervention reduces the level and amount of services needed downstream, and whether the app increases youth willingness to engage more with services. leave as soon as they can access it.

“That’s a new piece we’re going to measure: the motivation and readiness for counseling after using the app,” she said.

The need in Northwestern Ontario is greater than most places in Ontario and Canada. Waiting times are longer and there are fewer mental health professionals available to help young people in need. If successful, this app can help address those factors to provide support faster.

“Of course, an app will never replace coming in and talking to a counsellor, social worker or psychologist. But we hope it can be something young people can use to start building their capabilities and skills in the short term.”

The JoyPop app is a Canadian-made solution co-developed with researchers from McMaster University and Clearbridge Mobile. Currently the app
available for iPhone and iPad.

Mushquash’s team bought used iPhones that they will give to young people who don’t have one during their research, thanks to a Thunder Bay Community Foundation grant they received during their pilot study. New Investigator Research Grants enable early-stage researchers to make meaningful
contribution to the fight for children’s health. SickKids Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health jointly sponsor these scholarships.

This program provides support to early-career child health researchers to compete for research grants with more senior researchers.

“Congratulations to Dr. Mushquash for receiving this important grant and thanks to SickKIds and CIHR for funding,” said Dr. Mushquash. Andrew P. Dean, Lakehead vice president of research and innovation.

“This research suggests Dr. Mushquash will be able to build on its earlier evaluations of JoyPop and extend it to young people. It is absolutely clear that finding and evaluating the effectiveness of new methods to help our youth with mental health symptoms has never been more important.

“This is especially important in Northwestern Ontario, where mental health capacity is less than other parts of the province,” Dean said.

Grant enables Lakehead to study adolescent mental health app

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