News - Nov 2020

New funding will support projects to help civilians with trauma, youth struggling with mental health

We are pleased to share two major funding announcements:

  • The FDC Foundation has donated $696,000 to test a new approach to treating cognitive difficulties in civilians with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

  • The Ontario Trillium Foundation has awarded a $75,000 Seed Grant to HRI to engage youth as partners to design and pilot an evidence-based mental health app for youth.

Work is already underway for a project supported by the FDC Foundation to explore whether Goal Management Training (GMT) – a promising new trauma treatment – will improve thinking skills among civilians with PTSD.

Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma, has been leading studies on GMT as a treatment for PTSD since 2018. Her team of trauma experts includes HRI Consulting Scientist Dr. Ruth Lanius, who is also Harris-Woodman Chair in Psyche and Soma at Western University.

With this generous support from the FDC Foundation, Drs. McKinnon and Lanius have also welcomed promising young trauma scientist Dr. Andrew Nicholson to the team. A former HRI post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Nicholson now holds the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Vienna.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Nicholson to the HRI team of scientists as a result of the FDC Foundation’s commitment to developing promising new leaders in trauma research,” says Dr. McKinnon.

“This work is vitally important to so many Canadians, and we are grateful for the Foundation’s leadership in supporting future experts in the field.”

Dr. Nicholson brings a host of skills in brain imaging, brain-computer interactions, and large-scale data analysis to the project.

The research team notes that people with PTSD often struggle with thinking skills, such as memory, attention, planning, and the slow processing of information. These symptoms often go unaddressed by clinicians and researchers, but they contribute to poor functioning in everyday life, including an impaired ability to work and to interact with family members.

With expertise in neuropsychology, psychiatry, neuroimaging, and neurofeedback, Dr. McKinnon’s team is testing GMT among military members, veterans, and first responders with early success. Participants in these studies show improvements in attention, memory, and thinking skills, as well as an improved ability to self-regulate behaviour under emotional distress.

Thanks to the generosity of the FDC Foundation, Dr. McKinnon’s team can now expand their research to the civilian population. They will measure the impact of GMT on real-world functioning, including the ability of civilians with PTSD to interact with family members, control impulsivity and anger, return to or stay at work, and maintain workplace productivity. In order for participants to achieve the greatest benefit from GMT, they will undergo a session of neurofeedback prior to each therapy session, which will help to address factors that can often interfere with treatment.

Researchers will then use advanced brain imaging techniques to show how the structure and function of the brain looks before and after GMT treatment. The team hopes to see vast improvements or return to normal functioning after a nine-week course of GMT.

“We are grateful to the FDC Foundation for this funding, which will help to grow the scientific contribution in this field and more specifically work to help civilians with PTSD who are struggling with important aspects of daily life, such as family and work,” says Dr. McKinnon.

“There is a critical gap in treatment systems when it comes to helping individuals with PTSD achieve full remission. We are working hard to fill that gap with neuroscientifically informed treatment. We can, and we must, do better for Canadians affected by PTSD.”


The Ontario Trillium Foundation has generously awarded a $75,000 Seed Grant to HRI for a project aimed at helping youth.

The project will engage youth from Wellington County between the ages of 12 and 29 as partners in designing and piloting a prototype for an evidence-based mental health app. Youth will help to design the interface, build screens, and test the app to ensure that the finished product meets the needs and preferences of its intended audience.

Youth will be engaged through the Integrated Youth Services Network (IYSN), a partnership of more than 30 organizations working to build a new standard of care, support, and services for youth in Wellington County and Guelph. Through their youth hubs located throughout Guelph, Fergus, Erin, and Palmerston, approximately 10 youth partners from across the region will be invited to join the project team. They will provide input into the work plan and development of the app, testing the prototype using an online simulator and providing feedback to inform optimization of the app.

The app will be evaluated for safety and effectiveness using HRI’s recently developed App Evaluation Framework. Once the prototype is complete, the IYSN will continue to test the app for further development and implementation purposes.

The benefits of this investment by the Ontario Trillium Foundation are far-reaching:

  • Youth across Ontario, for whom many mental health services are frequently not available or accessible, will have access to an evidence-backed app designed with their specific needs in mind.
  • Youth will be empowered to contribute to creative solutions in their community.
  • Youth partners from across Wellington County will be provided with valuable learning and leadership opportunities throughout the project.
  • Leaders will identify key barriers and enablers for youth engagement. This data will inform the design of future change initiatives to optimize opportunities for youth involvement.

We are sincerely grateful for the donations made by both the FDC Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. These gifts will help us reach new populations and bring real solutions to people living with mental health problems.

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New findings released about hospital tobacco bans, tools for measuring craving

In our latest Research Snapshots, we profile important findings related to tobacco bans and craving measurement in inpatient settings. Find out how these findings can help to improve patient care.

What impact does a hospital-wide tobacco ban have on patients’ substance use?

This Research Snapshot summarizes a study that explores how a tobacco ban impacted the use of other substances among patients receiving inpatient addiction treatment.


Measuring craving among patients receiving addiction treatment

Researchers have tested a new way to measure craving across a range of substances with a rapid tool, and the results are promising.

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Three new scientists welcomed to HRI team

The demand for rigorous mental health and addiction research is growing. To drive our mission forward, we are pleased to welcome three renowned scientists to our team.

Dr. Onawa LaBelle, PhD

Dr. Onawa LaBelle has joined our team as HRI Collaborating Scientist. She is a President’s Indigenous People’s Scholar and Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Windsor. She earned a PhD and MS from the University of Michigan and gained advanced research training at Harvard Medical School, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is also a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Dr. Labelle draws heavily upon positive psychology in her study of close relationships, well-being, and recovery from alcohol and substance use disorder. Her recent work includes the examination of online recovery meetings, women’s relationship experiences in early recovery, and a Buddhist-based approach to recovery from addiction.

Dr. LaBelle currently sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Recovery Science. She regularly lectures on topics related to recovery, adult attachment processes, intimate relationships, communication skills, and the health and wellness benefits of gratitude.

Dr. Andrew Nicholson, PhD

Dr. Andrew Nicholson is a former HRI post-doctoral fellow who is now Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Vienna. With funding support from the FDC Foundation, he has now joined our team as HRI Scientist.

A promising young trauma researcher, Dr. Nicholson is best known for using brain-imaging technology to study post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related mental illnesses, making “invisible illnesses” visible. Using advanced tools like functional MRIs and machine learning algorithms, he examines indicators of trauma in the brain, common characteristics between mental illnesses, and the ways in which the brain responds to different stimuli and treatment approaches. During his post-doctoral fellowship at HRI, Dr. Nicholson received national media attention for his study using machine learning algorithms to diagnose and classify PTSD.

Currently, Dr. Nicholson is leading clinical trials exploring the use of neurofeedback in treating PTSD.

Dr. Andriy V. Samokhvalov, MD, PhD, FRCPC

Dr. Samokhvalov is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in the Department of Psychiatry and at McMaster University in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.

He is a staff psychiatrist at Homewood Health Centre and a psychiatrist and clinician scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Dr. Samokhvalov joins HRI as a Collaborating Clinical Scientist. His research focuses on the epidemiology of substance-related problems, as well as integrated treatment models, particularly in the field of concurrent disorders. He also has a strong interest in healthy living and promotes mental and physical well-being through nutrition, exercise, and stress management.

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Growing the HRI Board of Directors

It is with great pride that we announce the addition of four new members to the HRI Board of Directors, fulfilling a strategic decision to increase the size of the board from nine to 12 members.

The expansion of the board reflects HRI’s commitment to invite broader perspectives to guide our work as the need for mental health and addiction research grows.

Each board member brings unique experience and expertise to the table. As mental illness and addiction become increasingly urgent and complex matters in the Canadian landscape, we want to capture diverse insights that will ensure we are moving in a direction that will most benefit our greatest stakeholders – people living with mental illness and addiction.

We are pleased to welcome the following directors:

Dr. Bob Bell

Robert Bell served as Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Health from 2014 to 2018. Prior to this role, he served as President and Chief Executive Officer of University Health Network for nine years. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer at Princess Margaret Hospital, and the Chair of Cancer Care Ontario’s Clinical Council and the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario.

Dr. Bell received his Doctor of Medicine from McGill University and a Master of Science from the University of Toronto. He achieved his Fellowship in Orthopaedic Surgery in 1983. He completed training in Orthopaedic Cancer Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University in 1985, and at the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School in 2005.

Dr. Bell is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the American College of Surgeons, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He is an internationally recognized orthopedic surgeon, health system executive, clinician-scientist, and educator with more than 40 years of health care experience. Today he provides advice to a number of private and public organizations.

Gord Garner

Gord Garner is the Executive Director of the Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA) and Chair of Recovery Day Ottawa, an annual event aimed at reducing the stigma surrounding addiction and raising awareness about recovery.

Informed by his own 38 years of active addiction and influenced by those who helped him, he is now a national public speaker and trainer with expertise in Person-First Language and addressing stigma. Since 2016, he has presented at roundtables, conferences and meetings across Canada. His work has helped to shape many policies, practices, and educational materials on the harms associated with stigma.

For three years in a row (2018-2020) Gord has presented at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, a policy-making body of the United Nation system with prime responsibility for drug-related matters.

Gord is dedicated to removing barriers to enable policy writers, academics, researchers, and people with lived and living experience of substance use disorders to take evidence-based actions to improve the lives of people impacted by substance use in Canada.

Dr. Nick Kates

Nick Kates is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, with a cross-appointment in the Department of Family Medicine. He is also an Associate Member of the Department of Health, Aging, and Society at McMaster University.

For 12 years, Nick was the Director of the Hamilton Family Health Team Mental Health and Nutrition Program, which integrates mental health counsellors and dietitians into the offices of family physicians across Hamilton. He served as the Ontario Lead for the Quality Improvement and Innovation Partnership (QIIP) for five years, promoting quality improvement among primary care practices. He was also a member of the 2012 Ontario Minister of Health’s Advisory Group to redesign a mental health system for the province, and he served on the Federal Minister of Health’s Advisory Council on Mental Health and Addictions from 2017 to 2020. Throughout his career, Nick has consulted on many different health care systems in Ontario, across Canada, and around the world.

Dr. Linda Lee

Dr. Linda Lee is a Care of the Elderly family physician and Schlegel Research Chair in Primary Care for Elders. She is also Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University.

Dr. Lee has developed a Primary Care Memory Clinic model, known as the MINT Memory Clinic and Training Program, which has guided the development of new memory clinics in 115 primary care settings in Ontario. She has received a number of accolades for her leadership in improving care for older adults with dementia and other memory disorders, including:

  • The 2014 Ontario Minister’s Medal Honouring Excellence in Health Quality and Safety;
  • The 2015 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Aging Betty Havens Award for Knowledge Translation in Aging;
  • The 2019 Canadian Medical Association Joule Innovation Access to Care Award; and
  • The 2020 Change Foundation Future Innovator Award for improving healthcare experience for patients and caregivers.

Dr. Lee’s research interests focus on improving health care for older adults living with dementia and other complex chronic conditions associated with aging.

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