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The PhotoSTREAM Project

What is the PhotoSTREAM project?

The PhotoSTREAM Project is a research study that seeks to explore the mental health care experiences of transitional-aged youth (TAY) who have progressed from paediatric to adult psychiatric services. Study participants will be asked to take photographs over the course of three weeks that reflect a particular topic related to this transition. Photographs will then be analyzed by participants during small focus group sessions, involving individual reflection and collaborative discussions, as well as sorting, titling, and captioning activities that will aid in the discovery of overarching themes and patterns.

STREAM is an acronym for Supporting Transition-Readiness for Emerging Adults with Mental Health Challenges. Simply put, this project is designed to illuminate TAY perspectives and elicit meaningful discussion regarding the strengths and shortcomings of existing psychiatric services, and opportunities for more seamless and supportive mental health care transitions that bridge the gap faced by Canada's emerging adults.

What interested you in the transition from youth to adult services? Why did you focus your research on this topic?

As a Registered Nurse with clinical experience in both child/adolescent and adult mental health fields, I have noticed a stark contrast between psychiatric services offered to these two populations. Unfortunately, the progression from paediatric to adult mental health care is rather disjointed, which can be incredibly distressing for TAY who must suddenly learn to navigate a new system with little support during the transitional period. 

Emerging adults are already faced with many new challenges and potential stressors that may negatively impact their wellbeing. According to Statistics Canada, TAY experience higher rates of mental illness than any other age group. Physiological maturation (ex. hormone changes, neurocognitive development, personality formation...) when combined with role adjustments and societal pressures, leave many youth questioning their own identity and sense of belonging. As a result, it is incredibly important that there be stability, consistency, and continuity in mental health care delivery during this time of heightened vulnerability.

Existing research validates the need for clinical practice reform and policy revision to address this issue, yet the perspectives of young people are consistently underrepresented in conversations regarding youth-oriented psychiatric program development. Through participation in the PhotoSTREAM Project, I hope to give TAY an opportunity to share their personal narratives in a safe and supportive environment, that sparks creativity and ignites a passion for mental health advocacy. 

The PhotoSTREAM project uses the Photovoice method. What is Photovoice and why did you choose this method?>

PhotoVoice is a method commonly used in participatory, community-engaged research. It relies upon a combination of photography, individual interviews, and focus group discussions to illuminate an experience that is unique to a small subset of the population, and is therefore not widely understood.  This type of research is exciting because it is collaborative and action-oriented. Study participants have the opportunity to be involved throughout the research process, including data collection and analysis, as well as the planning and implementation of post-study knowledge sharing activities. While this widely varies by project, PhotoVoice has resulted in participant-led initiatives ranging from gallery walks, to photography blogs. In this way, PhotoVoice promotes creativity, empowerment, and social justice.

I chose to use the PhotoVoice method for this project not only because it is an effective way to gather participant insights and spark discussion, but also because it is a unique way to spread awareness and garner interest among key stakeholders who have the power to influence meaningful change. Modern scientific research findings are often presented at conferences or published in academic journals, but fancy jargon and expensive events can limit the uptake of valuable information. Photography is a wonderful way to share knowledge because it is so accessible! It can be difficult to articulate complex experiences through words alone, but an image can convey emotions and ideas without requiring an intimate understanding of a particular subject — whether you’re a healthcare provider, a politician, a researcher, or a member of the general public, you can appreciate a photograph and all that it represents.

What do you hope the PhotoSTREAM project will accomplish?

It is my sincere hope that information gathered will illuminate TAY interactions with the mental health system during this period of transition; thereby, highlighting the strengths and shortcomings of psychiatric services for this age demographic. Study findings will build upon existing research on this topic, and hopefully contribute to an enhanced awareness of TAY perspectives that may ultimately be integrated into mental health policies and clinical practices. Whether this project causes a small ripple, or makes a big splash, I believe this is an important issue worth exploring. 

What will participants gain from being involved in this project?

While participants may not experience any immediate direct benefits (other than free dinner), the youth-led research design may cultivate a sense of community, belonging, and empowerment. Photography exercises provide an outlet for reflection, artistic expression, and creativity, while focus group discussions offer opportunities for meaningful social interaction with peers who have similar lived experiences. Participants can also take pride in their role as mental health advocates and change-makers! 

How can people get involved if they are interested in your project?

Anyone interested should visit photostreamproject.org for a more thorough overview of the study. If they like what they see, they can then contact me via email at bjacks9@uwo.ca or sign up via the website itself. While I would love for anyone and everyone to be involved, because this is a research study, there are specific inclusion criteria that must be met to ensure some consistency across participants. This information is available on the website and is featured on all recruitment posters.  If youth are unsure whether they are eligible to participate, or have any other questions about the project, they are encouraged to send me an email.