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Youth Mental Health Promotion in Canada: Highlights from a recent review available now in a report, @ a glance, and webinar

Submitted by Monica Nunes, CAMH Resource Centre

Youth mental health is making headlines like never before in Ontario. Reports on youth bullying, violence, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse splash our newspapers, news websites and social media feeds on a daily basis. These news reports reflect a reality that population health data, such as that from CAMH's 2011 Ontario Student Drug and Health Survey (OSDUHS), unequivocally conveys: youth in Ontario are dealing with significant mental health, drug and alcohol concerns.

Those working in public health and health promotion look to upstream paths to alleviate present health concerns and to prevent future problems. In these considerations, health promotion and prevention practitioners strive to find best practices and evidence of interventions that are likely to be successful. In the case of youth mental health promotion and mental illness prevention interventions, this evidence base is not so easily identifiable as youth mental health promotion is still a relatively new field of practice.


In light of this gap in knowledge, the CAMH Resource Centre recently completed a scoping review to identify the range and extent of youth mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programming in Canada. The intended outcome for this review was to identify common elements across successful programs and recommend areas for further action and research.

To identify mental health promotion and mental illness prevention programs for this review, we searched for programs in five academic databases, conducted an Internet search for grey literature or research that has not been published, and spoke with youth mental health experts. This scoping review also applied a youth engagement lens and only programs demonstrating a meaningful level of youth engagement were included in the review.

The report concludes that the interventions identified in this review demonstrate some common programmatic elements and have the potential to promote youth mental health. However, more research will help to determine if these programs could work with different subgroups of youth. Consequently, we also make 16 recommendations for future research and action in the area of youth mental health promotion programming that incorporates feedback from four discussion groups with diverse youth.

Program planners, decision-makers and service providers can use this research to inform their programs and services and also guide future research and action on youth mental health promotion.

To share these findings, the CAMH Resource Centre will be hosting a webinar on December 5 from 10 – 11:30 am. We are inviting two exciting partners as guest speakers to present on their programs included in this review. First, Faron Gogo, Youth Engagement/Initiatives Coordinator with Youth Net Ottawa will provide commentary on the findings of the report from the perspective of their youth engagement work. Also, Dr. Suzanne Zwarych of the comprehensive school-based initiative the Fourth R, a program housed within the CAMH Centre for Prevention Science, will speak to the objectives and outcomes of this program.



The full report is available in English.

@ A Glance brief summaries of the full report are also available in both English and French.

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Webinar Recap - Promoting Positive Mental Health for Immigrants and Refugees

On March 6th, approximately 35 health professionals from across Ontario joined the CAMH resource centre and HC Link for a webinar called "Promoting Positive Mental Health for Refugees and Immigrants". Participants came from a diverse range of organizations and agencies and included educators, policy makers, settlement workers, public health professionals and resource coordinators to name a few. Joanne Brown from HC Link introduced the presenters, Angela Martella, Community Engagement and System Planner at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), and Marianne Kobus-Matthews, Senior Health Promotion Consultant, also from CAMH. Together, Angela and Marianne provided a review of key concepts related to mental health promotion; outlined mental health promotion best practices related to immigrants and refugees; described some exemplary programs working to promote refugee and immigrant mental health and lastly, introduced two resources to apply mental health promotion principles into practice.

These resources included the recently launched Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Refugees and the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Immigrants (to be launched this spring). These guides are two new additions to an online series that present health and social service providers with evidence-based approaches to mental health promotion with various populations. The guides outline best practices and provide practical tools to assist service providers in integrating evidence-based approaches to mental health promotion in their work with immigrants and refugees. Each guide includes 13 best practice guidelines, outcome and process indicators, as well as a worksheet and a sample to help plan and implement mental health promotion initiatives with refugees and immigrants.

During the webinar, participants were asked to identify what the term "mental health" meant to them. Using the chat box function, participants entered words and phrases like "well-being", "trying to find a balance in life", "flourishing, living to one's full potential", "able to cope with stress", while another participant wrote: "mental health to me means fluidity, balance, connectedness, peace". This is well-aligned with Health Canada's definition of mental health as:

"... the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity."   Health Canada, 1997

Building on the importance of culture, equity, and social justice in defining mental health, Angela and Marianne discussed the impact of risk and protective factors on refugee and immigrant mental health, that is, characteristics that are associated with an individual or community that will make it more likely to either develop a problem or will reduce the likelihood that a problem will develop. Participants were asked to identify risk factors (including determinants of health) that contribute to poor mental health for refugees and immigrants and contributed the following: social isolation, language barriers, immigration status, being separated from one's family, discrimination and racism, experiences of war/torture/trauma, parenting in two cultures, and factors such as employment, housing, and access to health services.

Some of the protective factors for refugee and immigrant mental health that were identified by webinar participants included: social and community supports, culture, leaving traumatic environments, having a sense of identity, belonging to a faith community, social structures that accommodate diverse individuals, having knowledge of the system, settlement services, opportunity for civil engagement, and supportive policies. As both the participants and the webinar facilitators illustrated during the webinar, risk and protective factors for the mental health and well-being of refugees and immigrants are experienced and can be impacted at an individual, community and societal level and action needs to occur at multiple levels, using multiple strategies that are culturally appropriate.

Thank you to all participants for a dynamic webinar. For more information and to download a copy of the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Refugees, please visit CAMH's Knowledge Exchange Portal:

Please stay tuned to HC Link for more information on the upcoming launch of the Best Practice Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion Programs: Immigrants.

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