Feb. 5, 2024

UCalgary researchers contribute solutions to city's mental health issues

Researchers can submit projects for City of Calgary's Mental Health and Addiction strategy
Girl on Calgary street
38 per cent of Canadians 15 years and older had at least one family member with a mental health, emotional or substance use issue. Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

More than 300 participants from Calgary-based non-profit organizations, researchers and funders working in the mental health and addiction space gathered for a one-day information sharing and networking event, hosted by The City of Calgary. The forum explored the issue of access to mental health supports and addictions services and reported back on the implementation of Calgary’s Mental Health and Addiction Community Strategy and Action Plan 2021-23

“Calgary’s Mental Health and Addiction Strategy creates hope and strengthens support for people, families and communities in Calgary living with mental health and addictions issues. It takes a person-centred and compassionate approach to supporting Calgarians,” says Lucy Janzen, research social planner in community strategies.

The University of Calgary has been involved in the development of Calgary’s mental health and addiction action plan, and several UCalgary researchers are currently involved with the initiative, which includes building community-based partnerships, to help initiate solutions to pressing issues. These activities with The City were supported by the Urban Alliance, the university’s Knowledge Engagement team, and the Campus Mental Health Strategy.

"Community partnerships are at the heart of our work at the University of Calgary. By collaborating with community and municipal partners we can extend our research efforts beyond campus," says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “Our involvement with The City’s strategy underscores our commitment to being resourceful in seeking solutions to critical societal issues.”

The City of Calgary is still welcoming other mental health and addiction researchers to contribute their expertise. They are looking for research projects that align with the strategy's actions and initiatives, can be applied in Calgary, and are ready for implementation in 2024/2025. Projects are accepted on an ongoing basis and are encouraged to submit an intake form via the Research in Action website

Here are just a few examples of research projects informing implementation of the strategy action plan.  

 Indigenous Mental Health Model
 Led by Dr. Jessica Shaw, PhD, associate professor, Faculty of Social Work

This project is designed to redefine our understanding of mental health through the lens of Indigenous wisdom.

The work is a formal partnership between The City of Calgary, the University of Calgary, the United Way, and the Elders' Knowledge Circle — which is a group of approximately 35 Indigenous Elders from 14 nations across Treaty 6, 7, and 8 territories. The project has been designed and directed entirely by the Elders, with the goal of developing mental wellness supports for Indigenous people. This model will be shared and taught to both Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous service providers, and policy-makers. 

Promising Practices for Children and Youth: A Model of Canada-China Collaboration
Led by Dr. Dora Tam, PhD, professor, Faculty of Social Work 

This research project champions the mental wellness of youth in Calgary, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie and youth from Hong Kong, China. The work, focused on evidence-informed intervention, invites children and youth aged 12 to 17 to collaborate with parents, guardians, community partners and natural supports in developing initiatives to promote and improve mental health. Over 25 young people have been directly involved in the project's development, implementation, data analysis, and knowledge mobilization. Another 160 youth have participated in various activities of the project.

Strategies for Addressing Needle Debris
Led by Dr. Jennifer Jackson, PhD, RN, assistant professor, Faculty of Nursing 

This project is initiating a solution to the number of discarded needles in Calgary through tailored and effective interventions. 

The team has already interviewed staff from The City of Calgary and community groups, analyzed media reports, and walked around the city using GPS-enabled cameras to understand needle debris. They are now collaborating with people with living experience of drug use to understand their perspectives. The next steps will be to create and test an intervention with the goal of to making Calgary and our environment safer for everyone. 

UCalgary’s own Campus Mental Health Strategy (CMHS) is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and the well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. The CMHS is also a close collaborator on The City’s Action Plan. The strategy is currently in renewal and has recently received feedback from various community members. Strategy staff utilized the City forum to seek feedback from community partners. 

About Urban Alliance
The Urban Alliance is a strategic partnership between The City of Calgary and University of Calgary to promote the seamless transfer of cutting-edge research between The City and the university, for the benefit of all our communities.

About Knowledge Engagement 
The Knowledge Engagement team connects researchers and community to build collaborative partnerships that create knowledge with impact. The team also supports the university’s Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) initiative. DORA is a global movement to encourage the development and promotion of best practices in evaluation of researchers and the outputs of scholarly research.

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