UCalgary Nursing researcher offers digital mental health resources for women | News

In Canada, only about eight per cent of health research funding goes to women’s health. UCalgary Nursing’s Dr. Dawn Kingston, RN, PhD, Lois Hole Hospital for Women Cross-Provincial Chair in Women’s Mental Health Research, is working hard to address the gap with her HOPE digital mental health platform, providing personalized risk and symptom mental health screening digitally for women as well as offering education, therapy and ‘next step’ recommendations.

In her way, Kingston is taking action for equality this International Women’s Day and doing her part to #BreakTheBias.

Kingston began in 2012 by asking women what they needed in order to improve their mental health during pregnancy and throughout post-partum. Three out of four women in her studies indicated they preferred to manage their own mental health. As a result, Kingston envisioned the need for accessible and affordable mental health care and resources and launched the HOPE digital mental health platform in 2019, thanks to support from a clinical network, mother and families and her chair, funded by the Alberta Women’s Health Foundation (an initiative of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation), University of Calgary Faculty of Nursing, and Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.  

“We believe self management taps into a woman’s sense of control over her life, empowering her to make the decisions that are in her best interest,” says Kingston. “Often women are so busy juggling the many aspects of their life that they don’t have time or the financial resources to follow up with traditional therapy or doctor’s appointments and they prefer being able to take steps on their own. Our digital HOPE platform allows women to access therapy and educational resources anytime, anywhere to improve their mental health.”

After supporting over 4,000 pregnant and post-partum women through this unique application, Kingston says her team discovered many women still have mental health issues after leaving the post-partum period. Thanks to a five-year renewal of her chair in 2021, the app plans to offer mental health supports for women in all stages of life with all types of mental health needs including pregnancy, post-partum, menopause, grief and loss, relationships and life challenges.

During the COVID pandemic, the need for women’s mental health support has increased significantly, says Kingston.

Women often bear the responsibility for caregiving, whether of children or of the elderly. With the pandemic, women are more likely to stay home from work to homeschool their children or to take on more care of their elderly parents during lockdowns. Added onto already busy lives, the pandemic has increased women’s life stressors and increased the risk of anxiety and/or depression.

Sharlene Rutherford, president and CEO of the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation and Alberta Women’s Health Foundation says, “These past two years have undoubtedly been years like no other and sadly, we have found women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“However, the new research and initiatives being undertaken by Dr. Kingston’s team represents an exceptionally bright ray of optimism in the realm of women’s health — an area that has been largely under-researched, underfunded and underserved. We are so proud and grateful to support Dr. Kingston and her team, and are confident they will continue to make enormous strides in supporting women’s mental health.”

Indeed, extensive marketing research by Kingston’s team reveals that there isn’t an existing platform like HOPE that offers women mental health help and resources.

The extended HOPE digital mental health platform, or HOPE 3.0 as it is called, is now under construction and the plan is to launch the upgrade before the end of the year. HOPE 3.0 features free screening, therapy and resources for women at any point throughout their lifetime so they will be in a position to manage their own mental health journey.

“The bottom line is all about overcoming barriers to mental health care,” says Kingston. “No country anywhere in the world has been able to offer accessible, affordable mental health care for all and it has always been an ambition of ours to do that. I am so grateful for my chair which provides stable funding and linkages to others within the Alberta research community. And women in Alberta are luckier for it.”

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