Research by youth and for youth in Canada
Empowering youth to identify their own healthcare priorities and to develop policy solutions that can address challenges to their mental and physical health.
Young people in Canada face various challenges related to their health and well-being, including inadequate support for young caregivers, the transition to adult health care, urban design’s impact on health and mental health well-being issues. It has become important to identify the gaps in health care that impact the physical and mental health of youth. The researchers funded by the Healthy Youth Catalyst Grants are working diligently to address these challenges and help find solutions.
The focus of the Healthy Youth Catalyst Grants is to help identify and develop emerging research relevant to Canada's Youth Policy, foster networking, and collaboration with young people, and build capacity for youth engagement in health research.
The five grant projects from the general pool address specific health challenges faced by young people in Canada.
- Researchers are developing tools to help youth caregivers navigate the healthcare system, making it more user-friendly and less stressful for young people thereby improving the young people's mental and physical well-being.
- Researchers are testing a new virtual care platform for youth with disabilities who are transitioning to the adult health care system.
- Researchers are introducing youth to urban planners and designers so the young people will have input in developing policy solutions and future urban designs that support the youth health and quality of life.
- To find solutions to the mental health crisis facing youth living in Canada, researchers are collaborating with young people to help identify research priorities for youth health and wellbeing.
- Youth co researchers are also working on finding solutions to the youth mental health crisis by meeting with stakeholders to ensure their mental health and well –being policy recommendations and research priorities are actionable.
The Healthy Youth Catalyst Grants-funded research projects collectively address pressing health challenges faced by Canadian youth. By involving young people as active participants and co-researchers, these studies emphasize youth perspectives and experiences. The research outcomes aim to create positive changes in health care support, urban planning, and mental health interventions. The collaborative and youth centered approach showcased by these projects has the potential to serve as a model for promoting youth well-being globally.
The first round of Healthy Youth Catalyst Grants was launched in Fall 2022, led by the CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health (IHDCYH), in partnership with the CIHR Institutes of Gender and Health (IGH), Indigenous Peoples' Health (IIPH), and Musculoskeletal Health (IMHA), and Indigenous Services Canada – First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (ISC-FNIHB). Twelve grants were funded in the broad areas of youth health as well as Indigenous health, physical health, 2SLGBTQI+ health, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Below is a summary of the five research projects from the general pool.
1.9 million adolescents and young adults in Canada provide some form of care to a family member or friend with a medical condition or disability. Dr. Karen Okrainec and her team of researchers are working with those young caregivers to develop tools that will help them navigate the healthcare system. "Youth caregivers may interact with different healthcare providers, who are often not aware of the caring role taken on by youth and how to adequately support them," explains Dr. Okrainec, a General Internal Medicine Physician who practices at University Health Network and is affiliated as a Scientist at ICES, OpenLab and IHPME at the University of Toronto. "When unsupported, youth carers can experience social, academic, and mental and physical health challenges which negatively impact their well-being and future employment and educational opportunities." Dr. Okrainec and her team will conduct a national survey to learn how healthcare providers recognize and support young caregivers and how they help them improve their mental and physical health.
A team of researchers in Toronto are testing a new program for a virtual care platform aimed at youth with disabilities who are transitioning to the adult health care system. It is called connect: Compassionate Online Navigation to Enhance Care Transitions. The goal of the program is to strengthen young patients' knowledge and skills in managing their own healthcare needs. The program hopes to build the patients' confidence by assigning them a trained peer who helps with education, advocacy and provides emotional and social support. Additional support includes the development of an up-to-date resource library and opportunities for patients' parents to be involved in the transition process. The research is motivated by the need for sustainable transition approaches because young patients who successfully transition to the adult healthcare system are more likely to be healthier long term and participate in their local community. "The connect program is evidence-based and youth and family-informed," says lead researcher Dr. Sarah Munce, a scientist at the KITE Research Institute and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy. "We will continue to work closely alongside youth and their family members to refine, evaluate, and implement the program."
There has been little to no research involving youth on the health impacts, both physical and mental, of growing up in high rise apartment complexes. Dr. Leia Minaker and her research team are changing that. The team is interviewing youths of different sexes and ethnic backgrounds living in Toronto, Waterloo and London, Ontario about their urban design ideas. The objective is for the youth to collaborate with urban planners and designers to develop policy solutions that promote the well-being and equity of youth. "The way our cities are designed has huge impacts on all areas of our health – air quality, pedestrian and cyclist injuries, access to food, even social connection to your neighbours. Kids' perspectives are almost always ignored while adults plan cities, which means we are overlooking the very people who will have to live with the consequences of our current decisions 20, 30, 40 years into the future," Says Dr. Minaker, Associate Professor, Director of Future Cities Initiative and Director of Survey Research Centre at University of Waterloo. By involving young people in decision-making related to urban design, the project seeks to ensure that their perspectives are considered and that future designs support their health and quality of life.
15- to 24-year-olds living in Canada report some of the lowest levels of mental well-being worldwide. Studies show their mental health worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Hasina Samji and her team want to find out why and are hiring young people to help with the research. The youth use data from the Youth Development Instrument (YDI), a self-report survey for grade 11 students that measures physical, mental, and social well-being. Since its inception in 2020, more than 26,000 students across British Columbia have completed the survey. "This project will yield youth-identified research priorities for health and well-being that they themselves can bring to youth-focused organizations, such as schools, community organizations, health-care services, and parent advisory committees" says Dr. Samji, Epidemiologist, Assistant Professor at SFU, Senior Scientist at BC Centre for Disease Control and Director of the Capturing Health and Resilience Trajectories Lab and Youth Development Instrument (YDI). By involving youth as co-researchers and empowering them to bring their research findings to youth-focused organizations, the research will help shape health policy and practice based on youth-identified research priorities.
Dr. Roberta Woodgate and her team are also trying to find solutions to the mental health crisis facing Canadian youth by asking them to identify research priorities and develop mental health policy. The research team will gather evidence from the young people through youth hubs in Manitoba. The youth will participate in focus groups and take a survey. Youth co-researchers will meet with key stakeholders to ensure their mental health and well-being policy recommendations and research priorities are actionable. "This CIHR patient-oriented research framework specifically emphasizes the lived experiences of youth and aspires to create a healthier future for them," says Dr. Woodgate, a distinguished professor in the College of Nursing, University of Manitoba.
Overall, the Catalyst grant-funded research projects demonstrate a commitment to address specific health challenges faced by young people living in Canada and recommend a course of action co-designed by youth. By engaging youth in the research and recognizing the importance of young patients' perspectives, these studies aim to create positive change for Canadian youth and have the potential to serve as models for promoting the well-being of young people around the world.
This work is supported through the Healthy Youth Initiative, led by the CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health.
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