Latest Thinking

A digital pulse on teen mental health

August 17, 2018

Despite Canada’s high quality of mental health services, it’s sometimes tough to get the right care for teens with the most common high volume, low intensity mental illnesses.

Facing long wait times, stigma, and care targeted to adults or children, untreated adolescents with mild intensity ADHD, depression and/or anxiety may end up in more expensive tertiary care, or see their conditions get worse.

But a growing number of digital solutions are helping better connect youth to the clinicians who care for them.

Keeping mental health on track every day

imTEEN is one such solution.

The winner of several patient engagement awards, imTEEN is a complete clinical management approach to youth mental health. A Personal Health Record (PHR) integrated with patient and clinician web portals and a phone app, imTEEN complements existing care delivery pathways by letting youth and their caregivers regularly communicate and share information.

The patient portal and app let young people with low intensity illness:

  • Track daily activities agreed upon in their care plan
  • Receive medication and activity reminders
  • Self-assess symptom severity and triggers regularly
  • Securely message care providers
  • Find curated self-care resources

Clinicians use their portal to interact with young patients to:

  • Follow tasks and goals in their care plans
  • Schedule activity and medication reminders
  • Monitor patient progress
  • Receive alerts when patients reach certain activity or assessment thresholds

National players come together to help teens

Designed by WeUsThem, imTEEN grew out of the Sandbox Youth Mental Health Initiative. The Sandbox Project, a national charity, convened this partnership among national mental health players, including Queen’s University and Hotel Dieu Hospital, and attracted funding from many Canadian foundations.

“All of these mental health leaders came together to create a solution based on the best clinician and patient experience,” says Christine Hampson, President and CEO of The Sandbox Project. “And user feedback from the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health meant this solution was developed with meaningful input from teens.”

Co-chairs Dr. Stan Kutcher and TELUS Health’s Zak Bhamani provided medical, technical and project leadership expertise for the solution, which runs on TELUS Health’s patient engagement platform.

“These big collaborations are hard to pull off, but they always produce the best results,” says Christine Hampson. “Everyone brought the best of themselves to the project to help Canadian kids be as healthy as they can be.”

The human factors of a successful solution

With phase 1 and 2 pilots complete, Sandbox has gathered enough evaluation research to help others as they roll out the solution or develop similar solutions.

“Not surprisingly, young people preferred the imTEEN phone app developed in phase 2 to other, more adult-friendly mobile solutions,” says Hampson. “The app acts just like every other youth-centred app, making it easy to report on moods and issues as a part of their everyday lives.”

But can a digital interface really offer connection and comfort to teens?

Early results point at effective low-intensity care

Patients using imTEEN said they did feel more connected to care. They appreciated being able to directly message care providers and get a response in 1-2 days for non-emergency care.

Using this digital interface, young users felt better able to understand mood cycles, recognize triggers, control symptoms, and reduce the need for interventions. While the tool doesn’t replace therapy, teens reported that using the tool to self-assess and self-manage was a helpful and responsive coping mechanism in itself.

They also felt that imTEEN saved time, a result of fewer and more productive care provider visits, with their tracked data fueling dialog and solutions.

Real-time information helps clinicians ward off crises

Care providers were impressed with the immediacy of imTEEN’s bi-directional communication and day-to-day recorded data. With imTEEN offering patients another interface into the system, clinicians felt more able to deliver care and intervene when signs pointed to decline or crisis.

They also gave the solution bonus points for fitting without disruption into their current practice.

Mental health in their hands

So will digital mental health solutions help drive youth with lower intensity issues away from tertiary care? The evaluation results hint yes.

Alicia Raimundo, advisor to the Sandbox Youth Mental Health Initiative and mental health activist, agrees. “By connecting with their doctors and tracking their own mental health information using their phone, young people play an active role in getting better. They learn that they can beat this.”

A larger sample size through integration in a health authority or provincial setting will provide further insight. Conversations with potential rollout partners are ongoing.

Mainstreaming digital care for healthy Canadian kids

“Clinical solutions like these should be part of the suite available to primary physicians,” says Sandbox’s Christine Hampson. “We shouldn’t be treating mental health as different from physical health. Integration breaks down stigma.”

We look forward to seeing teen mental health move further into the digital realm. Health organizations interested in adopting ways of efficiently connecting with patients to track and improve daily mental health should reach out to the Patient Engagement Team at TELUS Health.


Learn how patient engagement solutions from TELUS Health improve health outcomes, increase patient and provider satisfaction, and lower care costs.

telushealth.com/engagedpatients | patientengagement@telus.com