Plugging in and Planning for Crisis

Where do youth in crisis turn? To the phones that never leave their hands? To friends? To the emergency department, perhaps taken there by desperate family?

Studies done in Peel, just west of Toronto, suggest youth are much more likely to turn to friends, siblings, parents and faith leaders than to teachers, telephone help lines or community crisis workers. They also show the region’s population is comprised of 58 per cent minority ethnic groups. People from different cultures and beliefs react differently to mental health and addiction issues.

Those factors may be keeping youth from getting the help they need, so their first point of contact with mental health and addiction services is in a crisis — often through the emergency department or justice system, according to Elise Hodson, of George Brown College.

She is project director for a team from George Brown and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that is looking for ways that will work to connect youth in crisis with services.

“Our goal is to work with youth, find out what kind of support they need and see what role technology can play in preventing and managing crisis.”

Their definition of crisis is broad, because what has an impact on mental health and addiction varies by individual and context. “It can be any situation where they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope on their own — homelessness, a break up, failing in school,” said Hodson.

The project is running on a grant from the Social Services and Humanities Research Council’s Community and College Social Innovation Fund. The Peel Services Collaborative (one of 18 set up around the province to close gaps in mental health and addiction care for children and youth) is a collaborator.

The plan is to create a digital crisis planning tool designed to develop care plans for youth and their families that draw on natural supports, and focuses on person-centred care rather than expert-driven services. Ideally, the plan will be used to keep an issue from escalating into a crisis.

Hodson is chair of the School of Design at George Brown; its role in the project is to design interactive technology that will connect youth in crisis with the support they need. They hope to show how interactive design can improve communication and relationships between users and service deliverers, but it is too soon to say what that will look like. Hodson said there is a “staggering” number of mental health apps available, many of which are well-intentioned but poorly designed, often not backed with any counselling expertise.

The design process will be collaborative, including youth, friends and family as well as 15 service providers, 10 interaction design students and faculty from George Brown, and staff from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Provincial System Support Program. The team also includes Co-Design’s Connie Chisholm, a designer and educator who brings design students and marginalized groups together to collaborate on projects.

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