Bridging the digital divide and opening access to online research opportunities in youth and young adults living with mental illness in British Columbia

Project Summary

One in four young people in British Columbia experience a mental health issue each year. This project will develop methods to engage youth in health services research and system reform by exploring the digital divide. It has been identified that investments in health care technology may have big potential to help young people with mental illness find and receive care they need.

The objective of this project is to understand and dismantle the barriers to accessing digital information, research, and communication technologies for youth with mental illness in BC.


Our project is in progress. When complete, there will be five main outcomes of this study:

  1. A scoping review publication of the digital divide among youth
  2. Published qualitative study exploring barriers and facilitators to accessing e-mental health technology among diverse youth in BC
  3. A decision-making model for describing the factors of BC youth that influence access and use of digital technologies for health
  4. Knowledge translation outputs (tools and strategies) for four stakeholders groups (virtual care providers, Foundry leadership, youth, and families) that help dismantle barriers to accessing digital mental health technology
  5. A paper describing the methods for engaging youth with mental illness in research.

Watch a video summarizing this project, featuring project co-leads Skye Barbic and Shelly Ben-David, as well as youth ambassadors Nancy Zhao and Alicia Raimundo.

Runtime: 5:05

Project Findings

Forty-five youth have participated in a 1-2 hour virtual open-ended interview conducted by youth research assistants. Our interview protocol was based on a decision-making framework called the Unified Theory of Behavior.

We also asked questions related to how their identity (e.g. gender, race, ability, student status, socio-economic status) influenced their help-seeking, and how their use has changed since the pandemic. Thematic analysis was used to report patterns within the data. 

  • Age: Our youth were between the ages of 12-24 with a mean age of 19.
  • Gender: 31% Female, 33% Male, and 38% Two-spirit and Non-Binary. Thirty-eight percent of the youth were Transgender.
  • Race: 42% White, 18% Chinese, 13% Mixed ethnicity, 11% Indigenous, 2% Filipino, and 2% South Asian.

Youth reported their beliefs about:

  • Services (e.g., advantages and disadvantages)
  • Who approves and/or disapproves of them seeking services
  • Strategies and skills they use to access digital services
  • Emotions that get in the way and support them accessing services

Prior to the pandemic, youth reported not really accessing digital mental health services, but this greatly increased during the pandemic, and will continue to be used in the future.

Youth reported that identity experiences (e.g. gender, race, access to technology, education) do influence access to digital mental health services.

The findings from this study will help shape the development of tools and strategies, and help inform digital mental health services such as Foundry to increase accessibility for all youth in BC.   


We have conducted four deliberative dialogues with four stakeholders (youth, parents, virtual care providers, Foundry directors). Deliberative dialogues are a knowledge mobilization strategy, where you synthesize your data and present to important stakeholders in the field who can help shape the direction of the findings and outputs.