Engaging Young People Through Technology

3 min
Shalini Lal

Creative, empathetic and passionate about healthcare, Shalini Lal has succeeded in combining her skills and interests by becoming an occupational therapist. Her practice has led to her working in mental health rehabilitation with young people. The gaps she sees in the field have prompted her to specialize in psychiatry and youth mental health through graduate and postdoctoral studies. 

It was during her doctorate, when she realized the dominant role played by technology in the lives of adolescents, that she defined one of her missions: to change the lives of young people struggling with a mental health problem while making the most of technology. She studied this subject in depth as a postdoctoral fellow before embarking on her career at the CHUM.

Now the holder of the Canada Research Chair in Innovation and Technology for Youth Mental Health Services, she and her team work in the CRCHUM’s Youth Mental Health and Technology Laboratory (SMJ-techno), with the goal of improving the quality of services this clientele receives.

Her research focuses on three elements, availability, access and acceptability of care, approached from an inter- and transdisciplinary perspective. Shalini Lal emphasizes that 

No one has all the solutions, and it takes the perspective of several people to establish innovative practices.

Promising Projects

One of the projects developed in her laboratory, “Télépsy.CHUM”, seeks to determinine the feasibility and acceptability of online videoconferencing technologies (React) in providing mental health services in an urban context to young people experiencing their first episode of psychosis.

Launched in 2016—long before platforms such as Zoom and Teams became part of our daily lives—the project has been a great success with patients and has helped establish telehealth as a viable option.

The YEMHR JeParle [I Speak] project focuses on the experience of young Canadians aged 17 to 30 regarding the referral process for access to mental health services and uses anonymous online surveys. 

We ask them, for example, if they followed the steps, if it was easy. This helps us understand young peoples’ situations and guides the innovations we implement, explains Shalini Lal.

The SMJ-techno laboratory is also working on the Horyzons-Canada online support platform. Phase 3, which is currently under way, will see it implemented and evaluated with around 150 patients aged 18 to 50 receiving services for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

When Science and Politics Go Hand in Hand

Because she believes we can do better at integrating technology into mental health care, Shalini Lal did not hesitate to renew her application to join the delegation brought together by the Canadian Science Policy Centre’s annual Science Meets Parliament programme.

She is delighted to have been selected in the Tier II Canada Research Chairs category of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Her role will be to learn how to help politicians tackle science-related issues and also to communicate her research findings more effectively to politicians and the media. We know that she will do an excellent job representing! 

This portrait is taken from our 2022-2023 Activity Report

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When the Research Themes Tell their Story