Jun 2, 2020

SickKids Centre for Brain & Mental Health funds research into COVID-19-related child and youth mental health and brain health


Published by SickKids Newroom.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has taken its toll on all of us in many ways. For children and youth, the impact of the physical distancing measures and other restrictions on their mental health and cognitive development is unknown. It will be critically important to have this information to inform public policy decisions both during the pandemic and in its aftermath to guide long-term health outcomes.

To address this gap in research, the SickKids Centre for Brain & Mental Health (C-BMH) created and launched an expedited grant competition focused on finding new approaches to the understanding of and interventions for mental health and brain health among Canadian children and youth related to COVID-19.

The following research studies were selected to receive a Centre for Brain & Mental Health COVID-19 Catalyst Grant Award that will advance the field of brain and mental health research through innovation and collaboration:

Real-time monitoring of disaster-related mental health impact of COVID-19 on Canadian children, youth and families: A cross collaboration of community and clinical cohorts (Co-funded by the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Children and the C-BMH)
Dr. Daphne Korczak, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at SickKids and Principal Investigator of the study

This study will examine the real-time effects of the COVID-19 public health emergency measures on the mental health and wellbeing of children, youth and families in Ontario.

The research team will survey children and parents in the SickKids clinical and community cohorts (with a target of >6,000 children and families) over the coming year to learn how the pandemic has affected their mental health, family functioning, and health behaviours, such as sleep, physical activity and use of screen time. These data will help researchers understand the services that children and families will need. It will also identify potential targets for preventive interventions to allow for appropriate mental health resource allocation, now and in the future, to improve child and family outcomes.

Mental health support for SickKids children and families during COVID-19 using established eHealth interventions (Co-funded by the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Children and the C-BMH)
Drs. Tricia Williams, Neuropsychologist, Division of Neurology, and Suneeta Monga, Associate Psychiatrist-in-Chief, SickKids

The overall objective of this study is to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of virtual-care interventions, such as the Interact-North parent program and virtual cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for youth, in addressing mental health challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Interact-North is an evidenced-based, virtual family mental-health intervention that combines online modules with live therapist videoconference coaching sessions.

Early evaluation of these virtual-care interventions among a small group of children, youth and families will help researchers understand how to best scale up these interventions in the future during the post-pandemic recovery time period and during subsequent COVID-19 waves, if necessary.

Modeling Neurological Effects Of SARS-Cov2 Infection in Patient-Derived Cultures
Dr. Julien Muffat, Scientist in the Neuroscience & Mental Health program, SickKids

This team is interested in the neurological effects of Sars-CoV-2. Patients have reported mild symptoms, such as loss of smell and taste or confusion, and there are case reports of more severe manifestations, including seizures, brain inflammation and stroke, which has also been seen with other viruses of this family. These symptoms may occur when the virus reaches the brain or when inflammation elsewhere in the body triggers adverse reactions in the brain.

This is very hard to study, both in patients and in model organisms that are not natural hosts of the virus. This team specializes in engineering models of the human brain, complete with their resident immune system, which they use to understand neurological disorders, such as autism and Alzheimer’s, as well as other viral-induced illnesses. For this study, they will use models to study the vulnerability of the human brain to Sars-CoV-2 and how cells respond to it. Down the line, they hope to identify risk factors that predispose certain categories of patients to severe presentations, neurological and otherwise.