Grand Challenges Canada


Vancouver/Coast Salish Territories/Toronto, April 7, 2022 – A Simon Fraser University initiative created to support people in self-managing their depression is being reimagined as a virtual tool to help reduce the community mental health gap in Vietnam. Implementation was made possible with funding from Grand Challenges Canada, a Canadian not-for-profit organization that invests in local innovations that address critical global health challenges in low-resource countries.

Total funding from Grand Challenges Canada’s Global Health Mental program and the Vietnamese government of $2.8 million will result in access to an mHealth, or mobile, intervention for depression and support the development of community mental health services across the country.

Led by SFU health sciences professor John O’Neil, in partnership with Vietnam’s Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) and a host of research partners from Canada, Australia and Vietnam, researchers will develop an intervention app for mobile phones called VMood.

The self-management tool will link users with mental health resources and be available to people across the country. The team will also assist MOLISA to create a data system for community mental health, and improve training opportunities for social workers and health care workers in community-based interventions for depression and anxiety.

According to researchers, depressive and anxiety disorders among adults and children are common in Vietnam, a country of nearly 100 million people. While primary healthcare is accessible to the general population, healthcare staff often lack sufficient training to recognize and treat common mental health care problems.

“This research program is, for me, the ultimate goal of all good research; to develop an intervention that will improve people’s lives and then work hand in glove with the agencies of government to ensure this intervention is available to everyone in the country,” says O’Neil.

The initiative builds on research that began in 2013 and was led by the late SFU professor Elliot Goldner, formerly director of the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA), who spent a decade researching how to make mental health services more accessible to people who needed them. He created and successfully demonstrated the effectiveness of a self-managed approach in Vancouver—including development of a self-managed workbook—before expanding it globally.

Grand Challenges Canada funded this earlier work as a pilot study in 2013 and later as a randomized control trial, leading to the intervention’s successful testing in several provinces. Results were significant, with nearly 60 per cent of those trialing the intervention experiencing clinically relevant improvement in symptoms.

“We’re proud to have originally funded Simon Fraser University’s Supported Self-Management Model in 2013, which has since been digitized into VMood,” says Grand Challenges Canada Co-CEO Karlee Silver. “Promoting a collaborative approach to mental health management reduces the burden on health care providers and costs to healthcare systems, while empowering individuals to take an active role in managing their mental health. Supporting the transition to scale and sustainability of this mHealth app will significantly improve lives in Vietnam.”

Funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in 2017 and again in 2021 allowed the current research team to further assess implementation barriers in the country’s social and health system environments, and to begin to adapt the team’s initial intervention into a mobile phone app in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the VMood project is being primarily deployed in Vietnam, Leena Chau—a PhD Health Sciences student in the research team—is hoping to test the feasibility of the app with the Vietnamese immigrant community in British Columbia.

“It’s a great privilege to have the opportunity to test VMood in the local Vietnamese community for my doctoral research,” says Chau. “This reverse innovation will enable the transfer of knowledge for application back in Canada.”

“It’s an honor for me to continue Dr. Goldner’s work in Vietnam,” says O’Neil. “I hope we have done his legacy proud with this new funding.”


For more information:
Douglas Chow, Senior Manager, Communications
Grand Challenges Canada

Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University                                          | @sfu_fhs
SFU Faculty of Health Sciences strives to improve the health of individuals and populations by offering comprehensive, integrated education and producing innovative world-class research. We partner with local, national and global communities to further our goals of social justice and health equity for all.

Grand Challenges Canada                                  
Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact®. Funded by the Government of Canada and other partners, Grand Challenges Canada funds innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. The bold ideas Grand Challenges Canada supports integrate science and technology, social and business innovation—known as Integrated Innovation®.

One of the largest impact-first investors in Canada, Grand Challenges Canada has supported a pipeline of over 1,300 innovations in 106 countries. Grand Challenges Canada estimates that these innovations have the potential to save up to 1.78 million lives and improve up to 64 million lives by 2030.