Our Research

We advance outcomes-based research in mental health by engaging our stakeholders — starting with our most important stakeholder one, people with lived experience — at the start of our research process.

Identifying Research Priorities

Mental Health Research Canada responds to the current mental health needs of Canadians. Our stakeholders – beginning with people with lived experience and including all levels of government, mental health care agencies and providers, other charities and corporations – inform and guide us.

Why Our Work Matters

Beyond the significant toll on the quality of life for Canadians, mental illness costs a minimum $50 billion to the Canadian economy annually. Despite over 20% of Canadians being affected, mental health-related spending, public and private, amounts to approximately 7% per year. Because the need is now and great, Mental Health Research Canada has significantly increased its focus on forming creative and collaborative partnerships to generate evidence-based research and solutions that can have a practical application in the real world.

Completed Research

Explore the range of impactful research we fund: from biomedical research on mental illness to developing national mental health indicators to analyzing treatment effectiveness. Our researchers pursue improved mental health outcomes through cutting-edge and visionary work.

Research in Progress

FELLOWSHIPS, 2016-2019

Dr. Philip Gerretsen – New Investigator Fellowship

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

“The clinical and functional imaging effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on illness awareness in schizophrenia”

This study explores the clinical and functional imaging effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on illness awareness in schizophrenia, arguably the most treatment-resistant manifestation of the disorder. Schizophrenia is ranked 5th among leading causes of disability in industrialized countries and is estimated to cost Canada over $7 billion per year. Impaired awareness of illness, occurring in up to 95% of patients with schizophrenia, is associated with medication non-adherence, poorer functioning and higher risks of relapse, re-hospitalization and violence.

 

Dr. Wataru Inoue – New Investigator Fellowship

Western University

“The role of microglia in synapse refinement during the neuroendocrine adaptation to stress”

Chronic stress is a major risk factor for serious mental illnesses including major depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and memory impairment. Stress-related disorders have emerged as epidemic, estimated to cost $31 billion a year in lost productivity, and billions more in direct medical costs in Canada. How does chronic stress impair our mental health? A common theme in stress-related disorders is that persistent activation of the stress response rewires our brain (known as neuroplasticity) and causes maladaptive forms of neuroplasticity that underlie various disease symptoms.

 

Dr. Nathan Kolla – New Investigator Fellowship

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

“A Multiple Biomarker Approach to Investigating Psychosocial Treatment Response in Justice-Involved Youth with Conduct Disorder”

Some youth in conflict with the law have a history of violence. Many also display conduct disorder, which is a serious behavioural and psychiatric illness associated with disruptive and aggressive behaviour. Fortunately, talk-based therapies have been shown to reduce violence and aggression. The Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) model, one of the best-studied treatments, teaches young people to make better choices in the moment and works to reduce impulsive behaviour, which is a strong risk factor for violence in this population. The SNAP Youth Justice model has been developed for youth in conflict with the law. We propose using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to learn how this SNAP Youth Justice model impacts brain function in treated youth. We’ll also be studying how it affects morning cortisol levels, a stress hormone. 

 

Dr. Marina Milyavskaya – New Investigator Fellowship

Carleton University

“Self-critical perfectionism in the transition to university: Identifying links to depression and anxiety and designing a targeted intervention”

The transition to university is a stressful time for new students. Many develop mental health problems that can interfere with their schoolwork, social life and general functioning. The study’s first goal is to determine whether self-critical perfectionism represents a risk factor for experiencing increased depression and/or anxiety in the first year of university. Incoming students will complete questionnaires before the start of the semester,  halfway through and at the end. This data will be used to identify when a person is at higher risk of developing depression or anxiety, and when self-critical perfectionism becomes a real clinical concern. The study’s second goal is to design and test two different intervention components for people with high levels of self-critical perfectionism: teaching students how to cultivate self-compassion and how to cope with stress.

 

STUDENTSHIPS, 2016-2019

Lauren Drvaric

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

“The Power of Resilience: Positive Psychotherapy for Youth at Clinical High-Risk (CHR) for Psychosis”

Research has shown that clinical high-risk (CHR) youth are in need of novel treatments to help them cope with stress and the symptoms they experience. This study will look at a newly developed therapy known as positive psychotherapy, which helps young people identify their individual character strengths to build resilience. The study will evaluate its effects in CHR youth to reduce stress and psychosis-risk syndrome symptoms compared to standard treatment. It is hoped that positive psychotherapy will provide CHR youth with useful tools to help them navigate the challenges of daily life.

 

Nick Kerman

University of Ottawa

“The Effects of Housing Stability on Service Use among Formerly Homeless Adults with Mental Illness and Substance Abuse”

Mental illness and substance abuse are pervasive problems among the chronically homeless. This study  explores how the use of health, social and justice services differ during transitions from homelessness to housing compared to those from housing to homelessness. It will also examine the differences in service use between participants who achieve housing stability and those who experience housing difficulties and recurrent homelessness. The study will focus on 68 individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and a comorbid substance-use problem, and who are homeless at study entry. Half of the sample will receive housing first (affordable housing in the form of independent apartments with intensive case management); the other half will receive standard care. Participants will be followed over a 24-month period.

 

Danijela Maras

University of Ottawa

“How do avoidant attachment and depression impact quit smoking rates among HIV+ people”

This study will compare nicotine use and depressed mood among HIV+ people as a function of their avoidant attachment relational style. It will also examine how changes in depressed mood and attachment avoidance are related to quit smoking and nicotine use. This study is part of a larger randomized trial that examines the use of two medications (varenicline and nicotine patch), each with and without additional quit smoking counselling tailored for HIV+ smokers. This study, supported by the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network, has recruited participants across eight Canadian sites who will complete questionnaires assessing their avoidant attachment level, depressed mood and nicotine use at baseline, then every four weeks for 24 weeks. Nicotine use is also confirmed using a machine that measures carbon monoxide levels.

 

Carley Pope

Lakehead University

“A Preventative Approach for Postpartum Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Mindfulness-Based Intervention”

Postpartum depression is a serious mental health disorder that affects up to 20% of women who have recently given birth. Furthermore, up to 84% of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” which is a briefer period of emotional disturbance. Postpartum depressive symptoms have been found to negatively affect the daily functioning of mothers and can adversely affect the development of infants. Consequently, there is a pressing need for an effective preventive strategy to reduce the risk of postpartum depression.

 

Laura Schulze

University of Toronto

“A Randomized Controlled Trial Comparing Two Different Patterns of Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the Treatment of Refractory Depression”

For a large portion of patients  experiencing depression, medications and therapy are not effective. New treatments are urgently needed. The proposed study will investigate the use of an emerging, non-invasive form of brain stimulation known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), to treat major depression. rTMS involves stimulating certain areas of the brain with powerful, focused magnetic field pulses that, over time, can gradually change the activity level of that area. Currently, the use of rTMS to treat major depression requires a 45-minute session, five days per week over a period of four to six weeks, for a total of 20 to 30 sessions. A newly developed pattern of rTMS, known as theta-burst stimulation (TBS), takes just three minutes, twice a day, in as few as five to ten days. This study will compare the two approaches. 

 

Victoria Marche

University of Toronto

“Using Computations Models to Predict Antidepressant Response in Older Adults with Depression”

Major depression affects almost two million Canadians annually. This research project will explore and develop a computational model that uses individual biological and clinical characteristics to predict response to commonly prescribed antidepressants. The project has four phases: an investigation into genome-wide associations; an analysis of microRNAs found circulating in blood; a cellular study to understand how microRNAs regulate genomes to alter the way our neurons produce proteins; and development of an integrated computational model that determines which patients respond to their antidepressants. The goal of this research is to treat depression through personalized, precision treatment.

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