Expert Interview Series: Melissa Taylor-Gates of on Technology and Mental Health

Posted by Gerardo Espinosa on Feb 9, 2017 7:00:00 AM

Melissa Taylor-Gates is the Program Manager at mindyourmind, a youth mental health organization that co-creates resources with young adults and community partners.

We recently talked to Melissa about mental health services and how technology can help streamline mental health services and provide better resources. Here's what she shared:

Can you tell us about the mission behind mindyourmind? How are you hoping to help young people and impact the field of mental health?

The mission behind mindyourmind is to help youth live better lives by promoting wellness, reducing stigma and increasing access to community supports. To do that, we use a youth-adult partnership model that sees everyone as having valuable contributions to the interactive and innovative tools we create. We do this through our Design Studio model, in which young people work directly with facilitators, content experts, and designers to brainstorm, design and develop our projects.

Our major contribution to the mental health field is as facilitators and supporters of youth voice. We work with partners with varied goals from helping newcomers with orientation in Canada, to sexual health and transition care transformation. At mindyourmind, young people are valued as experts in their own experience and we build on their strengths and ideas to create innovation solutions to old problems.
You can learn more about our approach by watching this video.

What are some of the most common challenges facing organizations trying to reach individuals who are struggling with their mental health?

I think we'd all agree capacity is the biggest issue. There are thousands of amazing programs running across Canada, and most haven't seen funding increase in the last 10 years, though the number of those asking for services has increased. About 1.5 million Canadian youth struggle with their mental health, and our system hasn't yet been able to keep up with that need.

In response, we are moving into the space of social enterprise - owning a business as a nonprofit to support our work. Currently, about 5 percent of our annual funding is coming from this new initiative, and with the launch of our crowdfunding and mentorship program "Be Change," launching later this year, we expect that number to more than double.

How has technology changed the way you engage with individuals about mental health?

mindyourmind has always operated from a foundation of technology to engage with youth where they are. For youth, technology is a fundamental part of how they interact with the world. Ignoring it doesn't make sense. We're a culture that tends to be fearful of what we don't understand, but if we don't take the time to learn and grow outside of our comfort zones, we can't help them in exploring these new digital spaces.

More and more we're doing work over distance. Google Hangouts lets us have meetings with youth all across the province and has made us less tied to one geographic location. It's changed how we work on co-design work; we're currently waiting on a grant that will hopefully give us a bank of laptops to use in groups so that we can create in real-time digitally as well as in person.

You specifically work with young people ages 14 to 29. How are young people using technology to address/express issues concerning their mental health?

They're find people and places to have conversations where they aren't being stigmatized. Many youth find a sense of community online with people they've never met in person. Some of these youth are coming up with their own solutions to problems - creating supportive apps and conversational avenues where discourse and support can happen. YouTube is full of people talking about their struggles and doing independent anti-stigma work, which is amazing. As much as possible, we try to provide these youth access to trustworthy, research-based information so they can use the information however works best for them.

What are the benefits of how young people are using technology to address mental health issues? What about the drawbacks?

They can move quickly. The larger systems we have in place to support people are very slow to adapt and risk-adverse. As a result, they have a huge breadth and experience in how they address their own mental health, spread all across the world. The concerns are that some of this information may not be safe. That's the risk of moving quickly. Someone might get hurt or get the wrong information. I think that's why our model of youth/adult partnership using technology is so effective. We can help the youth move quickly with new ideas, while giving them the professionally validated information to reduce risks and help them more effectively.

What types of IT communication innovations would you love to see for those who work in mental health? What types of tools or resources do you think have the potential to really help individuals struggling with their mental health?

I'd like to see people embrace the amazing new world of virtual/ augmented reality to better help clients. I think there's an amazing potential to being able to move around a space to solve problems and instill a sense of safety. There are hundreds of new and innovative ideas that for-profit organizations are using that we can use for social good.

As for what will help, I think the answer is to talk to those you serve. They might list apps, but that doesn't mean they'd like one that just lists all the info on your website. Your clients are the experts in how they'd like to receive services.

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Topics: Insider