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Mental health services are less available and accessible in rural and northern communities than in urban areas. In Northwestern Ontario, youth access mental health services less often and have longer waits than youth in other areas of the province. This is concerning as extended time on waitlists can exacerbate symptoms, prolong distress, and increase risk for suicide, self-harm, and the need for hospitalization. Delayed access to mental health services also negatively impacts treatment engagement, with non-attendance, decreased motivation, and reduced satisfaction with services frequently reported following prolonged wait times.

Innovative and evidence-based approaches are urgently needed to provide support for youth in underserviced areas like Northwestern Ontario. In collaboration with Children’s Centre Thunder Bay and Dilico Anishinabek Family Care, our team has been working to identify technology-based solutions to address existing service gaps. Following a successful pilot study implementing and evaluating the JoyPop mobile mental health app, we recently began a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the app as a tool for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth who are seeking but waiting for mental health supports.

During this workshop, presenters will: (1) Discuss the mental health needs of youth in Northwestern Ontario and innovative solutions (Mushquash); (2) Review the current evidence supporting the use of e-mental health approaches, particularly mobile mental health apps for youth (Ashley); (3) Highlight successes in building partnerships between youth, organizations, researchers, and tech developers to implement app-based research studies (Mushquash; Ferrari); and (4) Provide practical strategies for seeking out and working with tech developers (Ferrari).


Dr. Aislin Mushquash is Registered Clinical Psychologist with Dilico Anishinabek Family Care where she provides assessment, treatment, and consultation to support Indigenous children, youth, and adults. Dr. Mushquash is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Lakehead University. Her research focuses on understanding maladaptive coping behaviours and evaluating innovative solutions to support adaptive coping. Dr. Mushquash leads the evaluation of the JoyPop mobile mental health app – a tool to support improved emotion regulation, mental health, and resilience among adolescents and transitional-aged youth. Dr. Mushquash’s research is supported by a CIHR/Sick Kids Foundation New Investigator Award and a Brain Canada Future Leaders in Canadian Brain Research Award.

Alex Ferrari is the Director of Client Experience at Mindsea Development. The Mindsea team is headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia and serves clients across the US and Canada and specializes in health, wellness and fitness. Their team of experienced professionals has expertise in mobile and web app design, development, integration, and project delivery for iPhone, iPad, Android and other platforms. Alex works with clients to best understand what success means to them in order to find a solution that meets their needs. Alex has a long history of building relationships and is passionate about seeing ideas turn into realities!

Angela Ashley is a Master’s student in Clinical Psychology at Lakehead University under the supervision of Dr. Aislin Mushquash. She completed her HBSc in Psychology: Brain & Cognition and a Minor in Neuroscience at the University of Guelph. Angela has also been a support worker for the last 5 years for individuals with developmental disabilities. Having been a research associate with the Family Psychology Centre in Toronto for two years, her research interests broadly incorporate emotional coping, childhood adversity, family resiliency, and enhancing access to mental healthcare and support. Her Master’s research will be focused on evaluating the impact of an e-mental health resilience-building tool, the JoyPop mobile mental health app, on youth seeking mental health services in Thunder Bay. Angela was awarded the Ontario Graduate Scholarship to support her studies.

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