Getting to know...Yifeng Wei

One of the newest mental health researchers recruited to the University of Alberta.

Yolanda Poffenroth - 01 March 2021

On March 1, Yifeng Wei joins the University of Alberta as an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry. Recruited to the U of A by the Women and Children's Health Research Institute (WCHRI), with funding from the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation, Wei will work to create a mental health literacy intervention for Indigenous children and youth.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born in China and moved to Canada in 2000, where I pursued a master of education degree from York University. While at the University of Prince Edward Island, my research focused on smoking cessation interventions and physical health among young people, especially among Indigenous youth. I started my journey as a mental health researcher in 2008 when I joined IWK Health Centre, the teaching hospital of Dalhousie University.

While there, I built a particular interest in addressing child and youth mental health promotion and prevention with mental health literacy approaches. I continued work with the IWK Health Centre and Dalhousie University Department of Psychiatry after completing my PhD in school mental health.   

What attracted you to the U of A?

At an international meeting I met colleagues from the U of A’s Department of Psychiatry and was immediately impressed by their research focus. The U of A fosters a vibrant and diverse academic environment to encourage research innovations and provide strong support for researchers to translate evidence-based research findings into practice and benefit the public. 

Can you share a little about your research and what you like about it?

I have great passion for my research, with a focus on promoting child and youth mental health, preventing mental disorders, enhancing early identification of children and youth at risk of mental disorders and improving the quality of referrals between health and education systems. Through my research, I have established strong connections with schools and I love to see how research findings can be translated into beneficial practices that are implemented in the community.     

How did you get into your field of research?

My first job as a junior researcher at the University of Prince Edward Island enabled me to build my initial interest in child and youth health research. I joined the team at the IWK Health Centre, where I advanced my research skills and determined my future research direction in child and youth mental health.   

What do you consider your most significant contribution?

In collaboration with Stan Kutcher, I advanced a conceptual framework for mental health literacy and led the research in this field nationally and internationally. I have co-designed many mental health literacy interventions for both students and educators, including Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide, Go-To Educator Training for early identification, and Transitions resource to support youth transitions from secondary to postsecondary life. 

In Alberta alone, more than 10,000 educators have received the Go-To Educator Training and schools in more than 20 countries have adopted the Mental Health & High School Curriculum Guide.

What do you hope to accomplish over the next few years?

Over the next few years I hope to create, investigate and disseminate a mental health literacy intervention for Indigenous children and youth through multi-sector collaborations with Indigenous community members across Canada. This project will integrate both Western and Indigenous knowledge to support Indigenous youth mental health. I will further develop and investigate interventions in the elementary school setting to promote children’s mental health. As well, children at risk of mental disorders will be identified early and referred to the appropriate care they need.

Do you have an inspiring figure in your life?

Stan Kutcher—now Senator Kutcher—has been an impeccable example of a mentor and an inspiring figure. His never-ending passion to promote child and youth mental health has shown me what a researcher looks like. 

What does the support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation mean to you?

Support from the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation will enable me to sustain and consolidate my research expertise in the child and youth mental health field. This support will also advance my growth toward becoming a leading researcher in school mental health at the provincial, national and international levels.