Ellen Tsaprailis, March 9, 2022
Photo credit: Luther Caverly

Culture and Gender Mental Health Research Chair Continues Focus on Health Inequities in Underserved Communities

Carleton University and The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) have renewed their joint Culture and Gender Mental Health Research Chair held by Department of Neuroscience Professor Kim Matheson.

In this second, five-year term, Matheson will continue to focus on health inequities in underserved communities. Her most recent work is in partnership with First Nations communities and organizations in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation region of Northwestern Ontario.

“I’m very pleased and excited,” says Matheson. “I think it’s good for me, good for Carleton, the IMHR and for the students involved.

“This phase of the research chair will emphasize youth capacity-building. It’s getting students engaged in relationship-building with Indigenous youth and understanding how to work together with Indigenous communities.”

Department of Neuroscience Professor Kim Matheson has been renewed for a second term as the Culture and Gender Mental Health Research Chair

Community Engagement is Key
“The renewal of this Research Chair is another example of the successful community partnerships Carleton engages with to conduct leading research and shape the future,” says Rafik Goubran, Vice-President (Research and International). “Kim Matheson’s research fits perfectly with Carleton’s commitment to enhancing wellness and mental health.”

In the first five-year term of her Chair, Matheson collaborated with the youth mental health unit at the IMHR as well as heading the Indigenous Youth Futures Partnership, an initiative she spearheaded with funding provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

“We had launched the Indigenous Youth Futures Partnership that started at the time the Chair started,” says Matheson. “Our focus was on building out the knowledge of how to work with youth and how to work with First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario to support youth.”

It’s an eight-year multi-institutional and multi-community project that is still ongoing.

“Much of the first phase was about community engagement—working with communities to identify their priorities and to understand how different communities took very different approaches to creating conditions for youth to flourish,” explains Matheson.“

Our approach is one of prevention as opposed to treatment. How do we support communities in their efforts to prevent young people from feeling the distress that they do that can lead to suicide, substance use, depression, withdrawal from education and so on?” asks Matheson. “These issues come from a lack of hope. We are working with communities to support their efforts to empower young people to flourish.”

Research has slowed down during the pandemic, in large part because the fly-in First Nations partner communities had to close themselves off from visitors other than essential workers. COVID issues continue as several of the communities are trying to manage substantial outbreaks. The communities’ priorities are to manage the identification and monitoring of COVID, and to respond to the needs of community members and households in isolation.

In the second phase of the joint Research Chair, Matheson is shifting activities to facilitate youth working with youth.

“At Carleton last term, we ran a national workshop on walking together in two worlds with Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, community members and students to explore how to share knowledge and learn with youth in communities. Change for the future depends on young people working together in a mutually respective way,” says Matheson. “The strategy is to provide young people with tools and perspectives to help them build relationships.”

The IMHR and Carleton will be partnering to provide opportunities for students to develop tools to work with Indigenous communities. Encouraging students to work appropriately with Indigenous communities on community-led projects is key to this Chair research.

A current example includes four undergraduate students and one graduate student from different disciplines at Carleton working with First Nations youth in Thunder Bay to articulate their strengths so that they can be shared on a multi-media platform with other youth who have to leave their home communities to attend high school in Thunder Bay.

“While working together they may develop an idea and with the support that the IMHR has invested in this Research Chair, we will be able to provide some seed funding for the First Nations young people who can take that idea and run with it,” says Matheson.

“There isn’t an end point. This is about a process. We are not necessarily going to see measurable changes in youth mental health directly coming from this Chair. The goal is to build relationships, to understand how to do it in a way that is respectful of the experiences and knowledge of First Nations communities and youth. We need to work with communities to help put in place the opportunities that youth can take part in that will promote their well-being.”

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