Top Innovative Projects for Mental Illness Awareness Week

This week, Canada celebrates Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) from October 6 to October 12. MIAW was designed to increase Canadians’ knowledge and understanding of mental illness. It was created in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, although it is now under the purview of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH)

In light of MIAW, we took a look at a few recent innovations that have impacted mental health services in Canada:

  • In British Columbia, Genome BC invested in Starling Minds—a company that developed a workplace Mental Health Platform. The platform provides an on-demand, digital form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). In recognition that mental illness could prevent Canadians from attending work, the company is using technology to remove these barriers and make health care for mental illness more accessible. Based on anonymous self-reported data, employees saw reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression by using the software. They also saw increased productivity at work (through reduced absenteeism).
  • The Mental Health Commission of Canada released a report on Stepped Care 2.0—their project to improve mental health care and addiction services through technology and innovation in Newfoundland and Labrador. After a demonstration project, the team received $1.2 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The main impact of the e-mental health platform is reduced wait times for these services. This project will be an important model for the rest of Canada to observe in order to create service platforms that are efficient, cost-effective, and minimally invasive.

Global News recently published a series on the state of mental health services in Canada. In the final installation, the series concluded on the issue of Canadian college and university campuses needing better mental health services. The issues with the current mental health supports include long wait times and limited service options, which is all happening amidst an increasing number of mental health concerns among students. Technology is an important tool that can be used to innovate in this space. Smartphone apps are among the tools that have been cited to help Canadians take control of their mental health treatments, from meditation apps to apps that employ CBT.

Other than e-mental health platforms and mobile apps, it is also important to consider how the rise of wearables and smart clothing could impact mental health. For example, Sensewear has a wide range of clothing to aid persons with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Stress, anxiety, and panic attacks are also symptoms of SPD, which the clothing aims to address. For example, their Pullme aromatic scarf can release scents when triggered to help comfort the user. These tools may have the impact of decentralizing the health care system and providing more diverse treatment options if inventors can provide them at an accessible price point and raise awareness about their availability.

Written by Summer Lewis, a second year JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. Summer is also the Content Editor of the IPilogue.

One Comment
  1. Given the stigma around mental health, this post raises some significant questions about privacy, specifically when it comes to electronic medical data. One issue is which standards apply to the transmission and storage of confidential information of the kind collected by mental health apps and devices (regardless of their sufficiency).
    In Ontario, for instance, personal health information is protected by the Personal Health Information Protection Act (which includes information relating to the mental health of an individual, per section 4 of the same Act). But the Act itself applies to health information custodians – from the definitions within the Act, it appears to be a rather closed list including practitioners and hospitals. One wonders then if data collected by wearable devices or apps marketed to the public writ large (for instance a self-help therapy app), which can collect a tremendous amount of personal health information, might fall under PIPEDA instead.
    So, does personal health information fall under provincial jurisdiction only when it is being used in the delivery of healthcare services? Or should it be protected as a class of information, and if so, by the provincial government or by a specific federal regime? Right now, it’s hard to say who, if anyone, is policing these devices and apps. But the concern is real, not least because the very people these kinds of platforms and devices are marketed to are the ones most in need of help and, as a result, most vulnerable to exploitation.

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