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Calgary hosts 'biggest show on Earth in child wellness and mental health'

Experts at global multidisciplinary conference work to fight stigma and promote resiliency and mental health
September 20, 2016
Mental health workers see more instances of young adults turning to substance abuse, self-injurious behaviours, or showing up at hospital emergency rooms seeking help. Pixabay photo by Skitterphoto licensed under Creative Commons

Mental health workers see more instances of young adults turning to substance abuse, self-injurious behaviours, or showing up at hospital emergency rooms seeking help. Pixabay photo by Skitterphoto licensed under Creative Commons 

Dr. Chris Wilkes, associate professor at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, is chair of the organizing committee of the conference.

Dr. Chris Wilkes, associate professor at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, is chair of the organizing committee of the conference. 

About 1,200 people from around the world who work in child and adolescent mental health are gathering in Calgary this week for the IACAPAP 2016 congress. The conference includes psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, educators, psychologists, parents, justice system officials and others that help children and families struggling with mental health.

“We are seeing more young adults turn to emergency rooms, more are being admitted, more are being involved in self-injurious behaviour, there’s social media bullying, more problems regarding medication use and abuse and substance issues,” says Dr. Chris Wilkes, chair of the organizing committee of the conference, associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine, and section chief of Child and Adolescent Addiction, Mental Health Community and Specialized Services with Alberta Health Services.

Cross-disciplinary conversation

The International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions World Congress is held every two years. This year’s congress, Fighting Stigma; Promoting Resiliency and Positive Mental Health, includes 600 papers, research symposia, workshops and study groups. It will also include a lot of cross-disciplinary conversation.

“This conference, unlike others I’ve attended, has people from a wide variety of disciplines in the same room,” says Wilkes. “If you take the principle that networking really promotes policy change, you can get people promoting good health issues and choices in schools early on rather than waiting until it’s a major problem in the emergency room.”

‘Big thinkers’ will present ideas and research

Speakers include Michael Kirby, the inaugural chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Sheldon Kennedy, a vocal advocate on ending child abuse. Dozens of researchers from 70 different countries will present their work.

“You’re going to see a lot of folks presenting different takes on stigma, others presenting different research clinical applications and ways to promote resilience and positive mental health and wellness that sometimes we forget about,” says Alan McLuckie, assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work and one of the congress organizers. “The conference brings together some of these thinkers so we can figure out all the great work that’s been done around the world and what the next steps are. It’s really the biggest show on Earth in terms of child wellness and mental health.”

UCalgary researchers present their work

Several researchers from the University of Calgary will present. Dr. Anne Duffy, a psychiatrist at The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), studies early detection of mood disorders in children. David Este is a professor in the Faculty of Social work who researches how to reduce the stigma of mental illness in different communities. Nicole LeTourneau is a professor and Norlien/ACHF Chair in Parent-Infant Mental Health in the Faculty of Nursing and member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute who researches how to help mothers with postpartum depression.

It can take 16 years for research to make its way from being published in a journal to being used at the frontlines with young people who are suffering with mental health issues. “We’re trying to narrow that gap,” says Wilkes. “We know that the social emotional health issues of children and adolescents need to be addressed in a positive and proactive way.”

Led by the HBI, Brain and Mental Health is one of six strategic research themes guiding the University of Calgary toward its Eyes High goals.