Master’s Student Medard Adu Researches the Effectiveness of Technology-Enabled Mental Health Support Services

Medard Adu got his first taste of Edmonton’s bone-chilling winter weather when an Arctic blast sent local temperatures plunging to -30 C in early February.

18 February 2021

That’s a long way south of the average February high of +37 C in Ghana, which Adu left last fall to enroll as a Master’s student in the Department of Psychiatry’s Graduate Program.

But he seems to be taking it all in stride.

“This is my fourth month in Edmonton and my first winter so I’m getting some experience with the weather here. It’s tough, right? But I’m enjoying it. It’s kind of a cool life experience and lifestyle,” he says.

Adu completed his Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences Education (Psychiatry) in 2014 at the University of Cape Coast, in a small seaside city 150 kilometres southwest of Accra, Ghana’s capital. “From there I moved into the classroom, and taught from 2014 until 2020,” he explains.

Adu also took some courses in the Master of Science in Global Mental Health Policy, Services and Development Program at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, some 200 kilometres north of Cape Coast.

That’s where he met two visiting lecturers from the University of Alberta’s Department of Psychiatry, including Dr. Andy Greenshaw, Professor and Associate Chair, and Dr. Vincent Agyapong, a Clinical Professor who is also from Ghana.

It proved to be a life-changing event. Dr. Agyapong, who has made it his personal mission over the past decade to encourage students in his home country to pursue careers in Psychiatry, convinced Adu to make the move to Edmonton, and enroll in the Graduate Program in Psychiatry.

Now, Dr. Agyapong is supervising Adu’s Master’s research project.

“We all look up to him,” says Adu. “He helped me get admitted to the Graduate Program and receive a scholarship, so he has been very instrumental in bringing me to the University of Alberta.”

Adu’s research revolves around two promising new areas of technology-enabled mental health services delivery. His primary area of study involves the use of rTMS (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) in combination with iCBT (Internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

“The study will seek to unravel whether having iCBT in addition to rTMS will give us better and faster results than if we offer rTMS alone. We’ve started the recruitment process at the 108 Street Mental Health Clinic and we’re hoping by the middle of this year to recruit at least half the number of patients we’ll need to continue,” he explains.

“We are targeting 100 participants in total, and we’ll randomize them into two groups of 50 each. One group will receive rTMS treatments alone, while the other group receives both rTMS and iCBT treatments.”

Adu’s second research project relates to supportive text messaging – a concept that Dr. Agyapong pioneered and developed in Alberta over the last several years.

“As you know, Dr. Agyapong has conducted several supportive text messaging studies in Edmonton and across Alberta, showing that text messaging helps patients get the information and support they need to deal with their mental health issues,” he says.

“Now, in this study, we’re going to compare email messaging to text messaging, to see if sending supportive messages by email will give us the same results as with text messaging. By the end of this study, we hope to know whether both of these approaches are effective, allowing us to combine the two, or whether we should stick to one approach.”

Like the rTMS / iCBT research study, Adu hopes to recruit a total of 100 participants for the supportive text messaging / email messaging project. Recruitment is expected to begin shortly.

“Hopefully by the end of this year we should be able to come out with some substantive results, so we can publish our findings next year,” he says.

After finishing his Master’s thesis, Adu intends to pursue a PhD in Psychiatry, and beyond that, a career in research or teaching.

“I think I prefer to be on the research side. Before I came to the University of Alberta I never knew much about research, but I after my first four months here I’ve found research enlightening, and I’m enjoying it. I want to know more and pursue more research in Psychiatry, but I do love being in the classroom too.”