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January 2020

Canadian youth access mental health support from evidence-informed policy

At a glance
The fellow

Postdoctoral fellow Ashley Pullman, PhD, University of Ottawa

The challenge

Youth and young adults struggle to access quality mental health and substance use services. Mental illness and problematic substance use affect one in four Canadian youth; with the highest incidence of mental disorders and addictions occur within 12–24 year olds

The solution

Evaluating efficacy and outcomes of mental health and substance use support centres for Canadian youth and young adults

The outcome

Development of evidence-informed mental-health and substance use policies increase quality of support services for Canadian youth and young adults

What's next

Ashley aims to further research and evaluation to improve mental health support services and programs, especially those that serve youth

“I have personally witnessed what it is like for family members to deal with mild to even more severe mental health concerns that prevent them from flourishing in work, school, and life. More often than not, the people close to me have little to no insight on where to go for help, and we are left scrambling to access help or, even worse, ignoring the program.”

Mental health changes over time, even more so than physical health. It is deeply influenced by our relationships with our friends, family, colleagues, and our general environment — making each person’s concerns unique. According to the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, suicide has become the ninth leading cause of death in Canada, with British Columbia holding the highest rate of hospitalization due to mental illness and substance use. Research suggests that the social stigma that surrounds mental health prevents 40 percent of people from seeking proper care. Similarly, struggling with mental health or substance use can make it difficult to do well in school, work, or have strong bonds with friends and family.

As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Ashley Pullman is part of the Canadian Science Policy Fellowship that aims to provide support and services for those struggling with mental health concerns or substance use. The fellowship allows fellows, like Ashley, to gain hands-on training in public policy and contribute to a national network of science policy expertise across academia, government, not-for-profit organizations, and industry.

Working with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and Foundry, Ashley aims to create a more integrated health and social system. Through evaluation, her work provides efficiency and measures of effectiveness for policy makers, by assessing the efficacy and outcomes of Foundry to help inform government policymakers for existing and future investments towards the Foundry model of care. This provides evidence-informed data that addresses the concerns of mental health and substance use challenges directly from those affected which shows results — or lack thereof.

Day-to-day, her work involves data analysis, communicating with community and stakeholder groups, and strategic planning to ensure the project meets the needs of everyone involved. Ashley’s project covers: individual-level outcomes for clients and parents/caregivers engaging with Foundry; organizational-level outcomes regarding the level and characteristics of integrated service delivery at Foundry; and community-level outcomes that provide insight into how the number of youth and young adults accessing health and social services change when a Foundry centre opens in a community.

Originally known as the BC Integrated Youth Services Initiatives, Foundry is a network of health care and social services created to meet the mental health and wellness needs of youth and young adults (age 12 to 24), through integrated youth service centres and e-services across the province of British Columbia. Supported by the Government of British Columbia, Graham Boeckh Foundation, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Providence Health Care, and St. Paul’s Foundation, Foundry has eight offices available in BC, with “one-stop” centres offering five key primary, mental health, and social services (i.e., physical health, mental health, peer support, substance use support, and social support) in a single setting.

Aligning with the Ministry’s 2019 “A Pathway to Hope,” a roadmap for making mental health and addictions care better for the people of BC, Foundry aims to transform access to services for young people and their families. Through integration of services, programs and policies across sectors and systems, Foundry’s initiatives strengthen the Ministry’s plans towards improving mental health. By initiating a more collaborative attitude towards policy making through direct evidence, Ashley’s contributions have influenced the Ministry’s policies.

Ashley’s work administers a partnership approach to evaluation, which can be used within public policy. Her work demonstrates how evidence-informed data contributes to better health-and-social system outcomes for youth and young adults, especially considering the vulnerability of the target demographic. As a mental health advocate, bringing help and guidance to those who have little to no insight on where to go for help or access services is what motivates Ashley.

“I have personally witnessed what it is like for family members to deal with mild to even more severe mental health concerns that prevent them from flourishing in work, school, and life. More often than not, the people close to me have little to no insight on where to go for help, and we are left scrambling to access help or, even worse, ignoring the program.”

According to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, an estimated 84,000 (12.6 percent) of Canadian children, youth, and young adults experience mental health disorders — the most common conditions: depression, anxiety, panic attacks and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As an on-going epidemic in Canadian society, mental health disorders and substance use are serious concerns for the future of our younger generation. Through Ashley’s work as a Canadian Science Policy Fellow, educators, and legislators alike can commit better action to improving services for mental health and substance use.


The 2019-20 Canadian Science Policy Fellowship is made possible thanks to the Government of Canada and participating government offices; the Government of British Columbia and participating government offices; and the Canadian Science Policy Fellowship Advisory Council.


Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca