Oct. 15, 2020

UCalgary researchers receive support for COVID-19 mental health projects

Studies to focus on greater understanding and improved supports for children, moms and families

COVID 19 has created a need for effective online delivery of mental health supports for moms and their children. University of Calgary Nursing’s Dr. Linda Duffett-Leger, PhD, has received nearly $200,000 to support children's mental health and development. A researcher in user-engaged health technology design, Duffett-Leger will work with co-principle investigator Dr. Nicole Letourneau, PhD, to adapt Letourneau’s interventions, VID-KIDS and ATTACH, to online delivery.

“COVID-19 has placed unprecedented strains on already vulnerable families,” explains Duffett-Leger, who is also a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “We will build on the success of Dr. Letourneau’s two intervention programs — which were successfully designed for in-person (home or clinic) visits to improve the parent-child relationship — by transitioning them to virtual delivery.”

Linda Duffett-Leger

UCalgary Nursing's Linda Duffett-Leger will develop online tools for a parental intervention with her first-ever CIHR grant.

Adrian Shellard

ATTACH (Attachment and Child Health) is a parenting intervention program, designed with community agencies serving families of preschoolers affected by toxic stress, to improve their reflective function, a skill that underpins parental sensitivity and responsiveness.

VID-KIDS (Video Feedback Interaction Guidance for Depressed Mothers and their Infants) aims to promote children’s mental, emotional and behavioural health and development by helping mothers with postpartum depression to be more sensitive and responsive to their infants. Both programs are positioned for transition to virtual formats and the timing is ripe for rapid uptake in Canada.

One of four UCalgary research projects 

The initiative is among four research projects at the university that are being funded through COVID-19 Mental Health and Substance Use Service Needs and Delivery Operating Grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

“Mental health and addiction are critical issues as Canadians manage day-to-day life during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research) at the university. “These projects will support the well-being of citizens as we navigate our current challenges, and we are grateful to CIHR for their commitment to this work.”

Duffett-Leger adds that early attempts to move the programs to online delivery, in an effort to help families during the pandemic, revealed insurmountable barriers to using commercially available technologies. “That just affirmed the need to develop and implement user-informed virtual care delivery platforms and mobile tools,” says Duffett-Leger.  

“This is a unique opportunity for nursing and software engineering to work together on a project that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the virtual delivery of parenting interventions to promote child mental health and development,” she continues. “The design team has been working hard with nurse interventionists and parents involved with the programs on the prototype designs and we plan to launch both virtual platforms by the end of the year.”

This is Duffett-Leger’s first CIHR grant; it ranked 10th out of 21 funded applications and 167 total applications.

The other UCalgary research projects that received funding are:

Nicole Letourneau is a professor with the Faculty of Nursing, and a research professor in the departments of Community Health Sciences, Paediatrics, and Psychiatry at the CSM. She is the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Chair in Parent Infant Mental Health, and member of ACHRI and The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research Education within HBI at the CSM.