Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations partners with U of S researchers to improve mental health services for youth

University of Saskatchewan researchers are partnering with members of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) as part of a $25 million national effort to find ways to improve mental health services for vulnerable young people.

"It's estimated that only about a quarter of Canadian youth with mental health issues actually receive the help they need," said Dr. Caroline Tait, a medical anthropologist at the U of S College of Medicine and leader of the Saskatchewan section of the TRAM program. "This problem is even more acute in small and remote communities with primarily Indigenous populations, due to size, distance from services, and jurisdictional challenges. Communities and front-line workers need more resources to provide effective services for their youth. Our team will draw upon the strength and knowledge found within First Nations communities to develop an evidence-base of best practice that is first and foremost grounded in First Nations culture and knowledge."

TRAM, or Transformational Research in Adolescent Mental Health, is a trans-Canada research initiative aimed at uniting stakeholders to work toward a common goal: improve the country's ability to identify mental illness in young people, as well as timely access to and quality of care to help them. Dr. Tait explained the first step for the Saskatchewan team is to consult with First Nations partners to establish how the research will be done and the resulting knowledge shared.

"This initiative comes at a critical time when governments are cutting the already extremely limited funding available for essential community programs and services." said FSIN First Vice Chief Kimberly Jonathan. "First Nations youth struggle with the highest disparities in health and social determinants and we see this in their cries for help that lead to higher drug and alcohol use, higher encounters with the justice system and most tragically, in higher youth suicide rates. Don't all youth in Canada deserve better?"

Funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Graham Boeckh Foundation, the national TRAM initiative is based at McGill University and Douglas Hospital and led by Dr. Ashok Malla, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Early Psychosis. Dr. Tait said that about $1.2 million of the national funding is expected to back the Saskatchewan team's efforts.

Current mental health services rarely offer the most effective social, psychological, and related treatments, she explains, and they often fail to engage youth in their design or delivery. While new early intervention and specialized, youth-friendly mental health services show promise, they remain largely unavailable to the majority of needy youth in Canada.

Key to the success of TRAM is its broad-based community partnerships, both provincially with FSIN and nationally through the Native Mental Health Association of Canada. The Indigenous People's Health Research Centre, a joint initiative of the First Nations University of Canada, the University of Regina, and the U of S, is also integral to the effort.

The TRAM team has also set themselves a deadline: to improve, within five years, Canada's ability to identify young people with mental illness, and improve the timeliness and quality of care provided to them. Dr. Tait said the Saskatchewan team expects to begin their work this summer.


Wilson Sutherland

Director of Special Projects

Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations




Jennifer Thoma

Media Relations Specialist

University of Saskatchewan


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