Better online help for troubled teens could be on its way

Young people dealing with mental issues may soon have a new, more technologically friendly, tool at their disposal.

CHUM researchers developing web portal to speed access for teens to mental health support

Researchers believe 11 to 25-year-olds are less likely to seek out mental health support if they face long wait times or complicated paperwork. (Getty Images)

Young people dealing with mental-health issues may soon have a new, more technologically friendly, tool at their disposal. 

Researchers with the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) have been given a $1-million grant to conduct a pilot study of an online self-referral program.

The program would allow teens experiencing mental-health problems to fill out a confidential online form, which would then be triaged. 

It would allow health professionals to offer more targeted follow-up care, either in-person, over the phone, or through new technologies, such as video conference or live chat. 

The idea for the program emerged from concerns that 11 to 25-year-olds are not getting the mental-health services they need. Researchers have found that, when faced with long wait-times or a complex health bureaucracy, youths often fail to seek out medical help.  

"We know that today one person in five will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime, and that most of these illnesses — such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — manifest themselves before the age of 25," said Shalini Lal, one of the researchers involved with the project. 

"If they don't receive the support they need quickly, there will be a trajectory for these youths that is not positive." 

The CHUM researchers will be working alongside Kids Help Phone, a national non-profit counselling service that offers a live-chat option. 

"With live chat, we have a lot more contacts who are suicidal, a lot more who have mental health problems, so the level of distress is higher," said Alain Johnson, the group's head of clinical services.  

The money for the pilot project comes from the federal government and the Graham Boeckh Foundation.

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