Pictured, left to right: Dr. Zouwei Wang, Dr. Raymond Lam, and Dr. Jun Chen at the Mental Health Centre of Hongkou District, Shanghai

A partnership between Canadian and Chinese mental health researchers received a $2 million boost as CIHR endorses the work of the APEC Digital Hub for Mental Health, an initiative led by Dr. Raymond W. Lam and Dr. Erin Michalak at the University of British Columbia in collaboration with University of Alberta and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

The five-year Canada-China collaboration will study the potential benefits of using innovative digital technologies to enhance measurement-based care for depression in Shanghai, and to share Canadian expertise with the goal of advancing healthcare and healthcare systems in China.

Dr. Lam recently travelled to Shanghai to meet Dr. Jun Chen, Chief Psychiatrist at the Shanghai Mental Health Center, affiliated with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, who is the Principal Investigator of the research team in China, and the recipient of matched funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NFSC).

“This is a massive project in terms of policy and logistics, but presents an enormous opportunity to improve clinical practices and to collect a large amount of data for statistical analysis,” says Dr. Lam. Eighteen investigators from Canada, China, the United States, and Australia will lead the project, which will be the first major research collaboration under the Digital Hub umbrella.

The project, which aims to tackle some of the issues outlined in China’s National Mental Health Work Plan, will introduce tools such as mobile apps and technology-aided coaching as aids in depression symptom monitoring. Already, the team has begun work on adapting the UBC Mood Disorders Centre’s popular depression-management online app MoodFX for Chinese users.

“There’s a lot of excitement around adopting tech interventions in mental health care in Canada,” says Dr. Lam. “These tools engage both patients and clinicians, providing real-time symptom assessment and feedback. Expanding this for Chinese users offers the opportunity to measure the clinical effectiveness of tools like MoodFX on a much larger scale.”

The project speaks to the urgency of addressing the leading cause of disability and burden of disease worldwide.

In China, improving depression diagnosis and increasing treatment has been a national priority since 2015. Researchers will assess clinical needs in participating Shanghai mental health facilities, with the goal of implementing programs similar to initiatives already in use in the Canadian system.

The study also represents a field advancement in patient engagement in research. Canada is at the forefront of an international drive towards advancing the science of patient-orientated research. Lessons learned in the Canadian context will be adapted and scaled-up for the Chinese context, and people with lived experience of depression in Shanghai will be integrally involved in the 5-year project.

The APEC Digital Hub for Mental Health is a web-based, interactive resource designed to facilitate the establishment of partnerships to implement the APEC Roadmap to Promote Mental Wellness in a Healthy Asia-Pacific, an initiative to improve productivity and wellbeing among member economies. The 21 APEC member economies represent 2.8 billion people, 60 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, and 47 per cent of global trade.