#ImmigrationMatters in Montréal, Québec – Revolutionizing mental health care for youth

Revolutionizing mental health care for youth

June 28, 2024


Dr. Srividya Iyer

Early in her career, Dr. Srividya Iyer remembers facing a weekly caseload of hundreds of patients as the sole clinical psychologist in one of India’s busiest public hospitals. Instead of questioning her career choice, she was motivated to find better ways to meet patients’ mental health needs.

She decided to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology in the United States, where she worked mainly with people who have serious mental illnesses. It was this experience that highlighted the importance of early intervention for her. It is widely known that about 70 per cent of mental health problems begin before the age of 25—and that prompt treatment leads to better outcomes.

“Youth is a period of great promise”, she says, “yet it’s also the period of greatest vulnerability for mental health problems. Without good-quality treatment, long-term impacts can be considerable”

“Dr. Iyer creates opportunities for others, training the next generation of researchers and clinicians, mentoring youth and helping to develop other colleagues.”

Dr. Christopher Mushquash, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Mental Health and Addiction and professor in the Department of Psychology at Lakehead University

After completing her PhD, Dr. Iyer was drawn by the chance to work at the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychosis at Montreal’s Douglas Mental Health University Institute (known as the Douglas) and arrived in Canada in 2006. About a decade ago, she co-led the launch of ACCESS Open Minds, a national network to remove barriers to mental health treatment for youth and lead ground-breaking research.

Partners in seven provinces and one territory, including six Indigenous communities, participated in ACCESS Open Minds from 2016 to 2021. Through ACCESS Open Minds, youth could access mental health services without a referral—they could just call or walk in. Along with mental health treatment, youth could also access other services they might need, like peer support or finding a job, housing or a doctor. The project has now been integrated into provincial youth mental health care in nine provinces across Canada.

In addition to ACCESS Open Minds, Dr. Iyer is a research leader for “Aire ouverte,” Quebec’s integrated youth services initiative; a professor in McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry; a psychologist and a researcher at the Douglas.

Dr. Chris Mushquash, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Mental Health and Addiction and a professor at Lakehead University, is working with Dr. Iyer to build a national network of youth, Elders, communities, researchers and Indigenous organizations to advance mental health and wellness for Indigenous youth. This network builds on the work of ACCESS Open Minds’ Indigenous Council.

“Dr. Iyer takes the importance of improving mental wellness for youth seriously,” he says, “she’s worked very hard to partner with Indigenous communities.”

Dr. Franz Veru, one of Dr. Iyer’s recent doctoral students, describes her as a great role model.

“As a supervisor, she pushes you forward and builds you up. She gives people like me hope—she shares the message that as an immigrant and a person of colour, you can contribute to Canadian society in important ways.”

Dr. Iyer is highly motivated not only to meet the needs of marginalized communities, but also to understand contemporary influences on youth mental health.

“Youth today are connected across the world, so they are constantly aware of issues like climate change, humanitarian crises, economic problems and more. How do we consider the way these social factors might be affecting them?”

She intends to find out. Despite all her achievements to date, Dr. Iyer is constantly looking for new, innovative ways to support youth.

Immigration profile: Montréal, QC

Quick facts:

  • Immigrants account for 1 in 4 health care sector workers.
  • Immigrants make up 33.4% of Montréal’s population.

Did you know?

  • According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 70% of mental illnesses have their onset during childhood or adolescence.

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