Sept. 9, 2019

All eyes on child mental health facility informed by UCalgary research

Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health to change landscape of mental health care and research
child mental health centre
Opening soon centre Photo supplied by Sahuri + Partners Architecture Inc

One in five Canadian kids today struggles with mental health challenges. More so, scientists know more about mental health disorders in adults than about how they emerge in childhood. By expanding knowledge of childhood mental health, there is an opportunity for advancing new treatments and providing better prevention of many conditions in kids.

An innovative facility is being built and designed in northwest Calgary to bring about these opportunities, thanks to a partnership between the University of Calgary, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and Alberta Health Services (AHS). The Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health will provide a suite of new services, including a walk-in clinic, intensive treatment services and a day hospital, to help young people and their families identify and rapidly manage mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

The centre is being funded through strong community support for the Alberta Children Hospital Foundation’s BuildThemUp campaign and events like the upcoming RBC Race for the Kids, which will funnel all registration and fundraising dollars to the centre. To close the knowledge gaps and break new ground in child mental health, a research framework will integrate with services and generate new biological, translational and clinical data that can be used to develop, test and refine interventions a pipeline from discovery to care, all under one roof.

  • The Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, image above, will provide a suite of new services built around a research framework. Architectural drawing courtesy Sahuri + Partners Architecture Inc.

It’s a visionary plan led by the directors of the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) and the Owerko Centre at Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), both in the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). The centre is built upon UCalgary expertise in epidemiology, health economics, imaging science, medical genetics, psychiatry and psychology. It will comprise researchers from faculties including CSM, arts, social work, nursing, the Werklund School of Education, as well as the CSM’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and the School of Public Policy.

“The mental health centre for children and youth has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a patient-oriented multidisciplinary research program that is closely integrated with a community-based mental health centre. This is a transformational first for Canada,” says Dr. Susan Graham, PhD, HBI member and director of the Owerko Centre at ACHRI, who co-leads the research program with Dr. Paul Arnold, MD, director of the Mathison Centre and also a member of the HBI.

"Our vision is that this research program will foster a learning mental health care system. Patients  will contribute to the generation of new knowledge, which is then fed back into the system to inform new treatments and better outcomes for patients, families and the community at large," says Arnold.

As a central access point of care, the centre will enable teams to rapidly engage and recruit families in critically important studies, Graham notes. It will allow experts a way to identify biological mechanisms and social and psychosocial markers in order to design better treatments.

“This centre will enable us to work with children with mental health conditions ranging from anxiety to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, substance use and beyond,” says Graham. The team will work with children who are at very different points in their mental health journey — providing the opportunity to understand and intervene at all stages.

Every research project will be evaluated to define effectiveness, transferability and socioeconomic impact. By applying this lens, the team hopes they will gain new insights that will assist local and provincial policy-makers in future decisions around child mental health funding and services. It will be built in the community of Hounsfield Heights — chosen because of its proximity to the Alberta Children’s Hospital and the university — and will serve thousands of kids and families each year.

The research potential is enormous, according to Dr. Chad Bousman, PhD, a pharmacogeneticist and assistant professor at CSM. "I think we really are pushing the boundaries here, and it’s going to be watched by the international community.”  Bousman is a member of ACHRI and part of the team that’s building out the research framework.

“There’s a lot of potential here for us to be models for the rest of the world, and the most exciting piece is the integration of clinical practice and child mental health research under one roof.”

Learn more about the centre here. If you would like to support the community campaign to build the centre, register for RBC Race for the Kids, happening Sept. 22 at Heritage Park.


Arnold and Graham

Paul Arnold, left, and Susan Graham.

Rilely Brandt, University of Calgary, and Mark Agius

Paul Arnold is the director of The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education, a member of the HBI and professor in the departments of psychiatry and medical genetics.

Chad Bousman is an assistant professor in the departments of medical genetics, psychiatry, and physiology and pharmacology and is a member of the Owerko Centre at ACHRI and the Mathison Centre at the HBI in the CSM.

Susan Graham is the director of the Owerko Centre at ACHRI, a member of the HBI and a professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts.