Surrey partners establish new SFU chair targeting youth addiction-recovery and mental health

December 10, 2015

A new Simon Fraser University research chair will support young people struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

SFU, the John Volken Academy (JVA), the City of Surrey and the Surrey Fire Fighters Association have together established the SFU Chair in Technology Innovations for Youth Addiction-Recovery and Mental Health. The partners are supporting the chair with $1.25 million in funding.

The announcement was made Dec. 10 at the JVA, a drug and alohol treatement centre for young men and women in Surrey.

The chair’s goal is to develop solutions that can help youth who are recovering from substance abuse, as well as those dealing with mental illness. The chair will lead research in non-invasive technologies to be used in diagnosis and recovery-focused treatments.

The chair will also be part of a larger Youth Mental Health initiative in the City of Surrey. The chair will work with stakeholders from universities, government, health authorities, civil services, and social service agencies to create a Youth Mental Health strategy for the City of Surrey, with a particular focus on substance use and addiction recovery.

In addition, the chair will serve as a bridge linking the Youth Mental Health initiative to Surrey’s Innovation Boulevard; teach biomedical engineering and health technologies at SFU; and train recovery-focused experts and innovators capable of tackling these large social issues.

“What strikes you right away is how innovative the Volken Academy is in helping young people affected by addiction,” says Ryan D’Arcy, founding chair of Innovation Boulevard and a professor in SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. “Partnering with leading-edge researchers makes perfect sense.”

Mike McNamara, president of the Surrey Fire Fighters Association, said fire fighters as first responders “see families living in poverty because the parents are not mentally equipped to provide the care needed to raise their children.

“Kids sent to school without lunches or warm clothing. We see mental illness driving people to addiction and pushing them into the streets, which inevitably leads to a rise in crime,” McNamara says. “For many years mental illness has been avoided by many because of the stigma that is attached.

“Mental illness or emotional injuries are normal and should be treated no differently than an injury somewhere else in your body,” he says. “We know that when a mental illness is caught early, the success of treating it is much higher.”

The JVA and City of Surrey are providing $500,000 each while the Fire Fighters Association is contributing $250,000. SFU will provide funding for additional support related to the position. A search to fill the chair is currently underway.