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Using technology to deliver mental health services to children and youth in Ontario

Posted on:
February 22, 2020

Introduction

The Internet and other technologies have great potential for delivering mental health services to children, youth and their families. The use of technologies such as mobile applications (apps), videoconferencing and Internet-based cognitive-behavioural therapy is burgeoning and there is a critical need to take stock of the impact of this movement, consider the advantages and difficulties associated with its use and develop strategies and policies to improve the practice of technology-enabled mental health service delivery. This policy paper:

  • provides an overview of the understandings and information needs of policy and decision-makers in Ontario regarding the use of technology in child and youth mental health service delivery.
  • reviews the key literature in this area.
  • reports on a provincial service scan of current use, barriers and challenges.
  • presents evidence-informed recommendations for moving forward in this area.

By linking current research and relevant policy implications, this paper also provides a comprehensive picture of the potential role that technology (both existing and emerging) can have in improving child and youth mental health (CYMH) services in Ontario. There are promising implications if technology can be used to:

  • provide more accessible mental health services, including reduced wait lists and enhanced access to services in under-served communities.
  • reduce barriers related to stigma.
  • support service delivery that is cost-effective and clinically effective.

Key Messages

There is a worldwide increase in both the number of technologies used to deliver child and youth mental health (CYMH) services, and in their use. Such technologies will likely continue to grow in importance and have the potential to transform the CYMH sector.

Technology is viewed as a way to enhance access to mental health services for children, youth and their families.

Technology use is changing client-practitioner relationships and offers opportunities to empower clients. Technology can enhance service integration and inter-professional collaboration.
Live interactive telephone and videoconferencing have a substantial history in delivering mental health services and supports to children, youth and their parents and caregivers. The evidence base in the field of tele-mental health is well established and demonstrates a high degree of practitioner/user satisfaction, enhanced capacity of practitioners and families in rural communities, and overall therapeutic success.

Evidence for e-mental health is emerging and to date demonstrates the potential to engage young people, and deliver outcomes that are as good if not better than services as usual.

Existing services in Ontario have the capacity to make increased use of e-mental health as a vehicle for service delivery.

There is a strong need to address the outstanding issues and concerns related to privacy and confidentiality when using e-mental health to deliver services and supports. Substantial gaps exist
in the evidence base underlying e-mental health programs, especially regarding mobile applications. Much of what is currently available has not been evaluated.

A solid program of education and training in the use of particular technologies is needed for practitioners and consumers. Real time, ongoing technical support is a best practice. Ethical and regulatory guidelines or frameworks are required to keep pace with the emergence of new technologies.

Targeted knowledge exchange is essential to the demystification, uptake and integration of new service delivery technologies. Government has been recognized as an enabler for local innovation in the use of technology.

Technology is changing more quickly than our ability to properly assess its application. Practice is moving ahead of evidence, and opportunities for research are not fully realized.

Summary

By linking current research and relevant policy implications, this paper also provides a comprehensive picture of the potential role that technology (both existing and emerging) can have in improving child and youth mental health (CYMH) services in Ontario.
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