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Caring in a Digital World: Introducing Disruptive Change to Mental Health Care – Summary Report


The ninth annual E-Mental Health Conference brought together mental health practitioners, researchers, students, people with lived experience and other system stakeholders to explore recent developments and insights related to technology-enabled mental health support — including how to effectively incorporate digital tools into the delivery of compassionate mental health care.

Day 1 opened with four workshops that took a practical look at some key areas of e-mental health (e-mh): engaging youth as active agents of change, implementing and building capacity for e-mh, using mobile apps to achieve clinical results, and evaluating the effectiveness of digital mental health interventions.

The conference proper began with remarks from Elder Diane Longboat; Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) President and CEO Louise Bradley; the Hon. Michael Tibollo, Ontario Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions; Susan Abbey, MD of the University Health Network (UHN); and Damian Jankowicz, PhD of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). These were followed by a keynote presentation by John Torous, MD on the current state and future potential of e-mh apps.

Day 2 was built around a series of panel discussions and presentations. Andy Greenshaw, PhD; Sean Kidd, PhD; and Alisa Simon tackled the question, “Is change coming?” Sanjeev Sockalingam, MD and Eva Serhal shared lessons learned from CAMH’s implementation of the ECHO Ontario Mental Health program, and Lori Wozney, PhD talked about the policy challenges Nova Scotia faces in e-mh implementation. Disruption — what it is and how it happens — was the focus of a discussion among Catherine Zahn, MD; Justin Scaini and Shaleen Jones. That same topic was taken up by Allison Crawford, MD, PhD; John Dick, and Mohammadali Nikoo, MD with respect to reaching marginalized populations such as Indigenous communities, youth and people with substance use disorders.

The final panel of the day posed the question, “Who is going to change the world?” Emerging researchers Alexander Daros, PhD; Emma Morton, PhD; Nelson Shen, PhD; and Ellen Stephenson, PhD had the opportunity to talk about their work in digital mental health. The event concluded with a keynote presentation from Ian Hickie, MD on what Canada can learn from the Australian experience with e-mh.

Key takeaways

At the end of the conference, David Wiljer, PhD provided a succinct recap of the lessons learned and key themes that emerged over the two days:

  • Trust, transparency and compassion are key to scaling up mental health services and supports.
  • It will take new knowledge, specific evidence and cultural humility to build and adopt smarterapproaches to mental health care.
  • Diversity, inclusion, equity and access are the fundamental starting points for expanding reach and broadening perspectives.
  • Going forward, it will be important to mind the “Ps and Qs” of e-mh: making sure it is predictive, preventative and personalized, and that it uses high-quality, high-volume data.
  • We need to start with the basic competencies: training and education, building workforce capacity, and creating new roles and the workforce of the future.
  • Involving all stakeholders in creating and implementing solutions will be essential: people with lived experience, researchers, clinicians, developers, IT experts and others.

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