Dr. Sheri Madigan, clinical psychologist and Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development, is greatly appreciative of a day like Bell Let’s Talk Day, dedicated to mental health awareness. Of course she is.
Madigan, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, spends every day researching the mental health challenges and outcomes faced by children and adolescents. She was recently recognized as Canada’s top researcher in her field, in fact, when last December she received the 2022 Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research, the most prestigious prize for mental health research in the country.
While she’s supportive of Bell Let’s Talk Day, Madigan stresses that the focus on mental health needs to go far beyond this day.
In the aftermath of global lockdowns and policies of social isolation in the wake of COVID-19 — which saw children and adolescents cut off from their schools, their friends, and so many important aspects of their lives — Madigan has found that depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled for young people. She’s long identified it as a global mental health crisis.
“There is a growing need for access to mental health care for children and their families as wait lists continue to grow,” Madigan says. “Throughout my career, I have focused considerable efforts on examining the social factors that shape children’s mental health. Now more than ever, it is so important to use research as a catalyst for informing clinical care, as well as improving mental health and treatment outcomes for children.”
To this end, mental health awareness year-round couldn’t be more crucial.
Reach a wide audience with a message based on research
“I am passionate about mobilizing scientific knowledge to ensure it reaches vast audiences, including youth, parents, educators, policymakers, judges, clinicians, health practitioners, and more,” says Madigan. “Through my ongoing research, I strive to continue shaping the future of mental health care and policy for children and their families, both nationally and internationally.”
Madigan has dedicated herself to working with clinicians, caregivers and youth stakeholders to create online psychoeducation modules to provide crucial support while children are waiting for treatment. With the support of interdisciplinary teams, Madigan’s ground-breaking research will help clinicians across the world develop actionable solutions for children and families with mental health needs.
As for receiving the Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize, Madigan says it’s an honour, a highlight of a career full of great achievements in the academic world.
Sponsored jointly by the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research at The Royal and the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada, the prestigious prize is awarded annually to an outstanding mental health researcher enabling future exploration and discovery.
Each year, the Royal-Mach-Gaensslen national prize provides $100,000 in support to a Canadian researcher who is under the age of 45 and who has demonstrated records of accomplishment in research, excellence in scientific rigour, innovative thinking, imagination, originality, and a clear ability to work in partnership with other disciplines and/or research teams that extend beyond the institution with which they are affiliated.
Through a variety of partnerships with clinicians and community organizations, Madigan aims to bridge the gap between research and care with a special focus on the social environments and contexts that shape children’s mental health.
By synthesizing existing data and conducting studies of her own, Madigan is seeking to uncover and better understand the root causes of mental health challenges in children, including parental mental health, pandemic impacts, experiences of adversity, and more. Madigan’s research also examines the resilience factors that buffer children from developing mental illness, such as receiving support from caregivers, teachers, or community members.
“Through her visionary research and dynamic partnerships, Dr. Madigan has the potential to change the landscape of mental health care for children,” said Dr. Florence Dzierszinski, president of the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research at The Royal and vice-president of research at The Royal.
“We are honoured to invest in her future research and look forward to furthering our understanding of how a child’s environment and experiences can impact their mental health.”