Improving mental health services for people with spinal cord injury

By Costa Maragos Posted: September 21, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Swati Mehta, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Psychology Department, is working with the University’s acclaimed Online Therapy Unit to help people with spinal cord injuries better access mental health services.
Swati Mehta, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Psychology Department, is working with the University’s acclaimed Online Therapy Unit to help people with spinal cord injuries better access mental health services. Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography

The research of Swati Mehta, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Psychology Department, has received a national honour.

The Royal Society of Canada has awarded Mehta the Alice Wilson Award for her work to improve access to mental health services for people with spinal cord injury.

The award is given annually to three women with outstanding academic qualifications at the postdoctoral level.

“I am very honoured and humbled to have won this award,” says Mehta. “The award is in recognition of Dr. Alice Wilson, who's the first female scientist to be elected to the Royal Society of Canada. I think at her time, women faced significantly greater barriers to being accepted as a scientist. Despite these barriers, it is impressive how much she was able to accomplish, not just for herself but for other women in Canada. She is a wonderful role model to many women in research.”
 
Mehta will examine the effectiveness of the U of R’s internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy course for persons with spinal cord injury.
 
The course is a collaborative effort between the University’s Online Therapy Unit and the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, who originally developed the course materials for use in online therapy.

“Access to mental health services is a significant issue for persons with spinal cord injury. A Canadian study has shown that only 43 per cent of persons with spinal cord injury have their emotional counseling needs met,” says Mehta. “My research project will provide a guided internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy course. The program provides skills and strategies to help people with spinal cord injury cope with thoughts and behaviours related to the injury, and manage their overall emotional well-being. I expect the program will help to improve resiliency and quality of life for people with spinal cord injury and their caregivers.”

Mehta completed her PhD at Western University in London, Ontario, in the Faculty of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and a master’s in counseling psychology. She was attracted to the U of R thanks to the groundbreaking work the University’s Online Therapy Unit led by its founder, Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos.
 
“Heather has developed a really comprehensive program that's based on strong evidence-based research and has direct clinical relevance. She has established herself as the foremost expert in internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy here in Canada. It's known throughout clinical and research circles, that if you want to want to gain expertise in this field, this is the place to be,” says Mehta. “Her program has shown positive improvement in outcomes of people with various health conditions.”

Right now Mehta is seeking people to take part in her study. She’s contacted spinal cord injury support groups, specialized rehabilitation units, and community clinics. If you or someone you know has experienced a spinal cord injury please visit the Online Therapy Unit website here to register for the course.
 
Mehta’s research has attracted attention from Canadian funding agencies. She has been awarded a two-year post-doctoral research fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and a post-doctoral award from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation.

Mehta’s recognition by the Royal Society of Canada puts her in impressive company. On September 19, the society announced 12 medal and award recipients of varying disciplines. To view the recipients please visit here.