Dr. Srividya Iyer – Carving a path to equitable, youth-friendly mental health services for underserved communities

Annually, the prestigious Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research is awarded to an outstanding mental health researcher enabling future exploration and discovery. This year’s winner is blazing a trail of widespread system transformation. OTTAWA, ONTARIO – November 6, 2023: The Royal and the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada are pleased to announce that Dr. Srividya Iyer of McGill University and the Douglas Research Centre is the 2023 recipient of The Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research. 

Dr. Iyer’s research focuses on adolescence and young adulthood, because they represent a period of promise and potential. Unfortunately, over 60% of mental health and/or substance use health challenges develop between the ages of 12 and 25. Mental illness in youth can cause a multitude of problems that can detrimentally impact a young person’s future. Inequitable access to services only exacerbates these challenges for underserved and marginalized communities. Yet, youth with mental illness often face late detection and intervention, long wait times, poor treatment outcomes, and siloed care.

Addressing these system-level issues, reducing wait times, increasing equitable access and creating better quality services can improve the long-term mental health and wellbeing outcomes of young people, especially those from marginalized communities. This is exactly what Dr. Iyer is striving to achieve through her research and diverse partnerships, both in Canada and globally.

Dr. Srividya Iyer
Dr. Srividya Iyer, 2023 winner of The Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research.

“I am honoured to be the recipient of the 2023 Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research,” said Dr. Iyer. “I envision a future of mental health care in which all young people have access to the care that they need, where they are, and in the ways they prefer. Through my research, I am uncovering innovative ways to bridge equity gaps so young people from communities that have been traditionally underserved can have access to supports and services that work for them. By collaborating and co-designing research with young people, their families, clinicians and policy makers, we are actively breaking down barriers and creating youth-friendly, inclusive care environments. It is crucial that researchers, clinicians and health systems listen to and learn from youth and families with lived experience to ensure that research priorities and health system designs and policies reflect people’s care needs and realities.”

One notable way that Dr. Iyer is making this goal a reality is by spearheading ACCESS Open Minds. This multi-stakeholder youth mental health network serves urban, rural, remote, Indigenous, post-secondary and homeless youth. It focuses on transforming services to identify needs early, respond rapidly, and provide appropriate, inclusive care under one roof. This provided part of the impetus for the adoption of a ‘one-stop shop’ model of integrated youth services across the country. These youth-friendly hubs are having positive impacts such as reduced wait times, barrier-free access, seamless transitions, and improved treatment outcomes. Dr. Iyer is currently playing a key role in research and evaluation for the deployment of such hubs across Quebec (Aire ouverte) and Indigenous youth services across Canada.

Dr. Iyer is co-leading a learning health system to help Quebec’s early psychosis services improve constantly through the ongoing exchange of real-time data and insights. She is also contributing to advancing youth mental health services and research in Nigeria, India and Bangladesh. 

“We are living in an unprecedented time of mental health crises, particularly among youth and marginalized groups. The current model is simply not working, and we are in urgent need of crucial funding and pivotal system change in order to stop letting underserved communities fall through the cracks,” 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. “Through international, interdisciplinary partnerships, Dr. Iyer is helping advance the landscape of youth mental health care and research globally, while considering all geographies, cultures, contexts and diversities. Her critical work serves as a base for widespread, scalable system transformation, and this is only the beginning. We are honoured to award Dr. Iyer with the 2023 Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research, enabling further growth and transformation in this area.”

“Dr. Iyer’s research is applied on the front line to help youth achieve better mental health. This research exemplifies the mission of the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation to translate research into patient improvements in health,” said Dr. Christopher Carruthers, chair of the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation.

The Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research was jointly established in 2015 by the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research at The Royal and the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada. It provides $100,000 in funding annually to Canadian researchers who are under the age of 45 and have 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.  

The Royal is hosting a ceremony on Tuesday, December 5 at 11 a.m. EST to present Dr. Iyer with The Royal-Mach-Gaensslen Prize for Mental Health Research, and engage in an inspiring discussion about her work. Please visit this link to register, or contact michaela.berniquez@theroyal.ca for more information. 

The Royal is one of Canada’s foremost mental health care, teaching, and research hospitals and is home to The Royal Mental Health Centre, the Brockville Mental Health Centre, the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health, and the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. Hope, access, and new possibilities are at the centre of everything we do. Through partnerships with clients, families, colleagues and community partners, our mission is to transform the lives of people living with complex and treatment-resistant mental health and substance use needs – today, and tomorrow. Click here to learn more about The Royal, our suite of services, and our impact.

The Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada honours the lives of Vaclav F. Mach and Dr. Hanni Gaensslen by supporting research in cardiology, oncology, and psychiatry. Over $5.6 million has been provided in grants since 2001. Click here to learn more about the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada.

- 30 -

Michaela Berniquez, Communications Coordinator, The Royal
michaela.berniquez@theroyal.ca  |  613-325-8567