Thunder Bay·Audio

'What's real or what's not real': Thunder Bay group aims to help with early psychosis intervention

The head of an organization in Thunder Bay, Ont., that aims to improve access to care for young people experiencing psychosis says youth themselves are at the core of much of their work, including a new social media campaign.

Northbeat launches youth-led social media campaign to promote awareness

Dr. Chi Cheng is the lead of the Northbeat Collaborative in Thunder Bay, Ont. (http://northbeat.ca)
Youth with psychosis in Northwestern Ontario do not get the help they need when they need it. NorthBEAT Collaborative wants to change that. Dr. Chi Cheng is the lead physician. 7:06

The head of an organization in Thunder Bay, Ont., that aims to improve access to care for young people experiencing psychosis says youth themselves are at the core of much of their work, including a new social media campaign.

Dr. Chi Cheng is the lead physician and researcher at the Northbeat Collaborative in Thunder Bay. It began in 2012 as a research project that explored barriers that young people in northern Ontario face when seeking help for psychosis. It eventually evolved to the point it received a four-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation's youth opportunities fund in 2017.

That enabled the collaborative, which Cheng said includes service providers, first responders and people who have lived with psychosis, to expand its work to try and improve access to care for young people.

"Psychosis is a symptom, not a diagnosis," Cheng told CBC's Superior Morning. "The way I like to say it is sometimes [people] have trouble figuring out what's real or what's not real."

The collaborative's initial research found that many young people seeking help ended up on a longer-than-necessary path to intervention or were turned away completely. Cheng added that early intervention is crucial to recovery.

"We want to make sure that wherever they turn, there is someone there that knows what to do," she said.

A big part of the collaborative, Cheng said, is its youth advisory group. It's made up of over 30 young people who came together in 2018 to meet roughly monthly with the collaborative and offer opinions and advice. Cheng said the youth themselves then pushed for a bigger role.

"Sometime in the spring they said 'we want to create a social media campaign for youth, by youth to explain about psychosis,'" she said. "I just stood out of the way and let them go."

The initiative just launched, Cheng said, and includes a series of facts about psychosis and links to resources on the Northbeat Collaborative's social media channels. It's also in partnership with the Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network.

"Youth told me ... 'don't advertise in hospitals,' which was my first thought," Cheng said, adding that young people encouraged the collaborative to reach out "at Chapters, at bus stations ... use social media to tell us about it."

"It was that type of thing that reminds me that I don't know everything."