Dalhousie PhD candidate and Bedford resident Yifeng Wei was recently awarded one of the largest Doctoral Research Awards available from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to support her research in the field of mental health education. Wei’s Doctoral Research Award consists of $105,000 that will be distributed to Wei over three years, and will cover her tuition and research expenses.
Her grant application was among the highest ranked among almost 1,400 applications received from researchers seeking funding from CIHR (www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca). CIHR is a parliament-funded institution that awards funds through competitions to researchers who focus on developing ways to improve the Canadian health care system.
“We’re so proud of Yifeng and her work,” says Dr. Patrick McGrath, Wei’s PhD supervisor, professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie Medical School, and clinical psychologist and vice president of research at the IWK.
“We have so many programs available to us as Canadians but so few of them are evaluated against outcomes. Yifeng’s strong foundation of evaluation will help develop a standard for mental health school-based programs globally,” says Dr. Stan Kutcher, the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie who is on Wei’s PhD advisory, together with Dr. McGrath and Dr. Jill Hayden, assistant professor, from the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University.
Wei’s research will aim to find out if raising awareness of mental health and illness changes the behaviours of the school-aged kids at the centre of her research and if this knowledge increases their chances of seeking help when needed. She will also be testing if this education helps reduce stigma against mental illness. With 1 in 5 Canadians experiencing mental health problems every year, Wei’s eager to make a difference.
“Getting mental health education into the hands of teachers across the country will improve the lives of our students,” claims Wei.
After emigrating from Hunan, China, completing a Master’s degree in education from York University and working with the Comprehensive School Health Research team at the University of Prince Edward Island, Wei’s now a member of the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health team, which is a joint venture between Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre that translates evidence-based knowledge into easy-to-understand initiatives for teenagers, parents and educators (www.teenmentalhealth.org).
Already piloting school mental health literacy programs in Digby and Bridgewater schools, Wei hopes to improve knowledge as well as the channels of communication between students, teachers, parents and physicians. She’ll use her research to create a measurement tool to evaluate the impact of mental health literacy programs and determine the best ways to carry out interventions.
About Yifeng Wei
Yifeng Wei holds a Master’s degree in education from York University. She’s the coordinator of the school mental health initiatives of the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and also helps develop programs that integrate mental health into the education system such as the High School and Mental Health Curriculum Guide. Her focus is on the prevention and early identification of mental health disorders, and on the promotion of mental health.
About IWK Health Centre for Research on Family Health
Dr. Patrick McGrath, Canada Research Chair and Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics and Psychiatry at Dalhousie University, is Ms Wei’s research supervisor. His group, the Centre for Research on Family Health is a leading centre for innovative delivery of mental health care. Strongest Families is a distance treatment system that has undergone successful trials and is now delivering mental health care in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta. A major prevention trial is underway in Finland.
About the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health
The Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health was established in October 2006 as an endowed academic chair, in partnership with Sun Life Financial, Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre. The Chair is held by Dr. Stan Kutcher. The chair team is responsible for mental health research; developing, disseminating and evaluating mental health resources, programs and training services for youth, educators and other related stakeholders; and implementing innovative strategies and new approaches to improve youth mental health through inter-sectoral cooperation and coordination. To find out more about the programs, visit www.teenmentalhealth.org.