Common Purpose Has Drawn CameronHelps and U of T Research Centre Closer Together To Aid Youth Mental Health

In February of 2016, the University of Toronto opened the Mental Health and Physical Activity Research Centre (MPARC), one of the first research facilities in Canada to integrate the study of physical activity and mental health. It didn’t take any time for CameronHelps to take notice. “I was excited about the potential that our Team Unbreakable program had to address some of the monumental issues of Canadian mental health management. I saw an immediate partner to help develop the evidence and to help guide program improvements,” said Executive Director Carl Worrell. He introduced himself to Professor Catherine Sabiston.

 (left, Catherine Sabiston). The feature photo is of the MPARC Centre.

The two organizations quickly realized the potential for partnership. On one hand, CameronHelps, with its running program, had a growing presence in surrounding schools, hospitals and community groups. On the other, MPARC had just created a state-of-the-art centre, conducting cutting-edge research on the impact of mental health and exercise training.

Fast-forward to August 2017 and Dr. Sabiston has joined the Board of Directors of CameronHelps and has strengthened the bond further. “It is a great time to give back and contribute and when asked, I gave it no hesitation. I believe in the people involved in the organization and the programs,” she said. Her team, in collaboration with the network of youth involved in the Team Unbreakable run programs, will be able to further its evidence-based research and analysis.

Dr. Sabiston was always interested in the psychology of exercise, and sports was a big influence on her life. Her early research led her to projects which studied the impact of certain drugs on exercise training, but she realized no one was researching the mental health aspects, or how the drugs “made you feel.” This has been the impetus for her long-standing research program focused on how physical activity affects mental health, and how mental health impacts physical activity participation.

CameronHelps and MPARC have already teamed up on a major program initiative which is proposing to bring together research funding support and a Team Unbreakable presence to Sudbury. The area is not like Toronto, because it is very dispersed geographically and this makes it challenging to identify resources. Unfortunately, the need for programs like Team Unbreakable is greater with more at-risk individuals, Dr. Sabiston said.

MPARC can provide outreach to schools to conduct workshops on stress management and symptom management. It is already helping youth through its partnership with the U of T’s Health & Wellness Centre. The team helps students with a six-week program of exercise, goal-setting, self-monitoring and stress management. “We want them to enjoy exercise and make it part of their lives,” she said.

MPARC’s research can allow us to discover and share knowledge about how best to get more people, more active, more often,” Dr. Sabiston said. For example, what type of physical activity is best, what is the right duration and intensity for exercise, and what differences are there between the sexes, she added.

“Team Unbreakable has a large, diverse and quickly growing population of participants,” admits Mr. Worrell, “a perfect opportunity to find some of the answers to these questions, and to further understand the impact on mental health.” Says Dr. Sabiston, “MPARC can help with evidence-based research and protocols and help to strengthen the process of data collection and analysis.”

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Dr. Catherine M. Sabiston is holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Physical Activity and Mental Health. Her research primarily focuses on strategies to improve physical activity, and reduce sedentary behavior, among individuals across the lifespan and how physical activity relates to mental health. Dr. Sabiston has over 160 peer reviewed articles, and has given over 350 conference presentations and community public health talks.

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