Interactive tools: Dr. Alexa Bagnell pioneers new approaches to teens’ mental health
Alexa and co-director, Dr. Darcy Santor (University of Ottawa and Centre of Excellence at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), have developed ‘YooMagazine,’ an Internet-based health literacy project (www.yoomagazine.net), supported by the IWK Foundation and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in the Maritime provinces. Packed with colourful pictures and funky graphics, YooMagazine is designed to capture the interest of today’s teens, while providing them with current, scientifically accurate information about relevant issues.
“YooMagazine covers the gamut,” Alexa says. “We have already produced issues about nutrition, stress, self-harm, bullying, mental illness, sex, and relationships. The material is written directly to the teens in a way that engages them to think about the topics in relation to themselves and their peers.”
Alexa and Darcy, along with editor, Azijada Hodzic, develop the content for YooMagazine in collaboration with subject-matter experts from a number of institutions, including Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre, the University of Ottawa and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and the University of Toronto and Sick Kids Hospital.
But YooMagazine is not a one-way street. In addition to dishing out information, it gives kids plenty of opportunities to ask questions, share their stories, and take part in polls and challenges. “We are actively gathering information from YooMagazine users that helps us, and the schools, understand what issues are having the most impact on youth mental health today,” explains Alexa. “Eventually, we would like to be able to measure the impact YooMagazine is having on teens’ understanding of the issues, their attitudes and behaviours, and their willingness to seek help when they need it.” At the same time, Alexa has funding from the IWK Foundation to create a similar YooMagazine portal for teachers and long term plans include one for parents as well.
Alexa and Darcy are collaborating with the Sun Life Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, Dr. Stan Kutcher, on a Nova Scotia-Ontario project that’s testing the effectiveness of YooMagazine and e-learning modules in comparison to, and in combination with, a mental health curriculum for students. Alexa and Stan also conduct mental health education programs for schools, which add to the impact they are making through various school-based mental health initiatives.
In addition to YooMagazine, Alexa conducts clinical and community-based research studies. She is conducting one study with members of the IWK Treatment of Anxiety Group to assess how well group cognitive-behavioural therapy alleviates anxiety in children and teens. In another, she is working with Dr. Patrick McGrath and Dr. Anita Unruh to look at parent-teen communication patterns and how they impact adolescent mental health. She will use her findings to develop programs to help parents learn how to avoid the negative, handle conflict, and promote the positive in their relationships with their teens.
Dr. Alexa Bagnell - Child & Adolescent Psychiatry - Printable PDF