May 3 – May 9 is the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week, spotlighting theHeadshot of Dr. Anne Duffy, Dr. Nicholas Delva, and Dr. Nazanin Alavi importance of mental wellness in Canadians. We interviewed three Queen’s psychiatrists working in various fields to get their perspective on the future of mental health research and work in the field. 

Dr. Anne Duffy is an academic psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry working in the new Division of Student Mental Health. For over two decades, she has studied the onset of major mood disorders in young people at familial risk. More recently, Dr. Duffy has expanded this research to understanding the scope of mental health need and determinants in university students. “This research branded U-Flourish and funded by CIHR (in partnership with philanthropic funding from donors such as the Rossy Family Foundation and the Mach Gaensslen Foundation) has been developed and conducted in partnership with students at various levels of intensity from consultation to involvement to co-creation,” she says. “We have developed a biannual electronic survey and with a student designed and led engagement campaign capturing the voice and experience of a large representative and diverse sample of students over the course of their university life.” More recently, incorporating state-of-the-art methods and digital technology, Dr. Duffy’s team has developed and will evaluate to scale a stepped approach to supporting student wellbeing and mental health through providing student-tailored and engaging mental health literacy as an accredited interdisciplinary elective course, digitalized self-monitoring and self-help resources available through a student-friendly purpose-build web platform and digitally enhanced care pathways. “This research should advance our understanding of scope and trends, as well as mechanisms and identify important prevention and early intervention targets,” she says.

Dr. Duffy says her vision for the future of mental health work is research, in partnership with students and colleagues from complementary disciplines including the humanities, education, psychology and medicine, provides an evidence base that will inform and translate into welcoming, inclusive, accessible and effective mental health support and care delivered in a seamless system of tailored and stepped approaches spanning health promotion and prevention, to self-guided help to student-centered care pathways. “This vision would include such important and holistic initiatives as compassionate campus, understanding intersectionality and diversity, mental health literacy, wellbeing support and psychological and medical assessment and care.  Research should be embedded in the mission and mandate of all student welfare initiatives in order to inform need, evaluate progress and identify barriers, gaps and successes to build upon, she says. 

During Mental Health Week, Dr. Duffy wants people to know mental health is vital to our wellbeing and reaching our potential. She says, “It is our obligation as a society, as higher education institutions and as clinicians and academics to come together and partner with our young people to understand what is needed, what works and for whom and how does it work in order to develop a coherent system of mental health promotion, support and care that is compassionate, effective, acceptable and accessible and that includes whole university approaches as well as targeted prevention and intervention.”

Dr. Nicholas Delva is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and his main clinical work is with the two Assertive Community Treatment Teams at Addictions and Mental Health Services, Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington. “The teams provide community support for patients with serious mental illnesses and significant needs,” he says. Dr. Delva’s research interests include mood disorders, schizophrenia, suicide prevention, primary polydipsia, psychopharmacology, ECT, and medical ethics. 

Dr. Delva hopes the future of mental health work looks like the current fragmented and inadequately-funded system evolving into something much more efficient and effective. “For example, the extent of repeated incarceration of mentally ill persons today is not what the reformers of the nineteenth century would have imagined to be possible in the twenty-first century,” he says. “The closure of the mental hospitals has not been matched with adequate community-based resources, and this needs to be properly recognized and dealt with.  Meanwhile, work with the seriously mentally ill is often frustrating and stressful for practitioners who must deal with seeing patients receiving inadequate care.” 

Dr. Nazanin Alavi is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Clinical Lead of Emergency Psychiatry at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). Her research focuses on the effectiveness of online psychotherapy in treatment of different mental health disorders. Dr. Alavi began her mission of making mental health care more affordable and accessible back in 2007 when she was shocked by the limited amount of mental health care resources and decided to address it with a burgeoning technology that was making everything from shopping to education more accessible. “I thought an evidenced based and structured therapy technique such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) could be effectively delivered online; and so, I dedicated my academic research to this topic. I joined Queen’s University as a faculty member in 2019 and developed and lead the first academic online psychotherapy clinic in Canada,” she says. “This offered different online psychotherapy modalities; for mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorder, post traumatic disorder, chronic pain, insomnia, and Oncology and Palliative Care patients, to name a few. We offer rapid access to suitable online psychotherapy to patients based on their diagnosis and need.”

Dr. Alavi hopes society continues to work on changing the attitudes about mental health and improving access to mental health resources. “Mental health has been kept behind closed doors. Everyone deserves to be heard. We should know that we are not alone and feel worthy to look after ourselves.  I hope mental health gains more visibility and services become more accessible. I hope with developing more innovative approaches, we can expand the capacity of care delivery,” she says, adding that together, we can change the “don’t ask, don’t talk” approach to mental health to “do ask, do talk.”