Canada and China are partnering on a five-year project to enhance mental health treatment through the use of smartphone apps, text messaging and electronic medical records.
The $2.15 million split-funded project, called EMBED, will be announced later today on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam and aims to close the mental health care gap.
Both countries are struggling to deal with a shortage of mental health care professionals, especially in remote areas, as well as time constraints for psychiatrists and other experts dealing with patients.
The project will be run through the APEC Digital Hub for Mental Health, which is based at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and works in partnership with the University of Alberta and Mood Disorders Society of Canada.
Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield, who represents the Ontario riding of Guelph where there was a spate of on-campus suicides earlier this year, sees great potential in the project for developing applications that may target younger people who feel comfortable on digital platforms.
Apps could help raise a red flag when a student withdraws from class or social activity, or has a sudden drop in grades, allowing others to identify symptoms if the youth does not self-identify. Other apps could help someone through a crisis or depressive state when the youth in distress does not want to have direct contact with a psychiatrist or mental health professional, he said.
"Sometimes with mental health, locations to get to them when you're in the middle of a health problem isn't always the best way," Longfield said.
There is much debate over the dangers of smartphone use and the impact on mental health, but Longfield said the flip side is the positive use of the technology helping those with mental health needs.
"We really are at a point in time where there's some great possibilities to improve wellness of people through apps that might be developed in a network like this," he said.
International Trade Minister Franҫois-Philippe Champagne is expected to discuss the project and its potential to "transform mental health knowledge and treatment across all of APEC's 21 economies" with his global counterparts in Vietnam.
"Achieving economic health takes a comprehensive approach and it is innovation like the Digital Hub that will help develop new approaches to improving mental wellness on an unprecedented global scale," he said in a statement.