How patients are helping to shape future research at HRI

In the field of mental health research, patients are the most important stakeholders. They bring the perspective of experts with lived experience who can make important contributions that enhance the relevance and legitimacy of research.

To ensure that HRI’s work is responsive to the needs of Canadians, we aim to engage patients in identifying and informing meaningful research priorities and plans. In this way, patients are partners, playing an active role in shaping the mental health and addiction research agenda.

When HRI launched the Recovery Journey Project, a study examining the long-term outcomes of mental health and addiction treatment, we worked with patients to determine which aspects of recovery were most important to them. Now in its fifth year, the Recovery Journey Project is generating findings that can be used to improve treatment in Canada and help patients get better, sooner.

At a recent event in Guelph, Ontario, HRI invited patients in recovery from addiction to tell us what kinds of questions they think need to be answered about recovery.

The event, called Spiritual Renewal, is an annual celebration hosted by HRI’s primary research partner, Homewood Health. Patients from Homewood Health Centre’s residential addiction program gather each year to celebrate recovery milestones and support one another.

HRI has attended the Spiritual Renewal event for several years. Many attendees are alumni who have participated in the Recovery Journey Project. Others are current patients of the Health Centre, and the remaining attendees are family members. This year, we asked attendees, including family members, to help us determine future directions for the project. In particular, we wanted to know:

  • Which areas they feel should be the focus of future research, and
  • What kinds of questions they have about recovery.

What did patients tell us?

Mental health ranked as the number one priority research area among those who participated. Some of the most pressing questions included:

  • What are the impacts of concurrent disorders on recovery?
  • How does childhood trauma affect recovery?
  • Why do some people develop an addiction while others don’t?

Other major areas of interest and accompanying questions included:

  • Aftercare: does it work?
  • Social influences on recovery: how important is it to have a strong support system that includes people with lived experience?
  • Personal influences on recovery: does quality of life change over time?

Click to view priority research areas and related questions as identified by patients

What happens next?

With these insights, we can begin to explore the emerging research themes that matter to patients the most. Findings can then be used to inform meaningful improvements to care and ultimately to generate better treatment results.

The expertise that patients bring to the table will enable us to shape future research activities to better help the patients and families who stand to benefit from our work the most.

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Scholarship awarded to honour legacy of Guelph mental health advocate Darlene Walton

L-R: Dr. Roy Cameron, Alyna Walji, Gary Walton

Darlene Walton was passionate about mental health. A well-known Guelph resident, she dedicated her career to helping people impacted by mental illness and addiction. She was also a strong supporter of mental health research and contributed in many ways to Homewood Research Institute (HRI), a mental health charity which she saw as having potential to transform Canada’s mental health and addiction services.

When Darlene passed away in 2018, HRI established a scholarship to honour her legacy. The Darlene Walton Scholarship Fund was designated to support a student pursuing studies in the field of mental health and addiction research. On June 18, 2019, the award was presented to its first recipient, Alyna Walji.

Walji is a Health Studies co-op student from the University of Waterloo. During her 2018 work term at HRI, she developed a prototype tool that displays research data in a simplified and interactive way. Known as the Data Visualization Tool, the prototype was created to help health data users such as hospital administrators, program directors and others use data and improve programs by identifying critical success factors, areas for improvement, and research priorities.

Walji worked in collaboration with Dr. Jim Wallace, professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, to develop the tool and move it from a paper-based blueprint to a fully-functioning electronic dashboard application.

The Data Visualization Tool is currently being piloted at Homewood Health, HRI’s founder and primary research partner. Using the prototype tool, clinicians can quickly explore data from patients who have been in recovery for up to one year following addiction treatment, and use findings to inform changes to treatment programs and ultimately improve patient outcomes.
“The Data Visualization Tool is a resource that can transform the way our research data is shared and used,” says Dr. Jean Costello, a Research and Evaluation Scientist at HRI who supervised Walji’s work term.

“Oftentimes, data is shared via static media, such as infographics and reports. This tool allows people to interact with the data in a user-friendly way. It makes otherwise-complicated data more accessible, meaningful and understandable for those tasked with making data-driven decisions and improvements to mental health care services.”

Members of Darlene Walton’s family were in attendance during the award presentation.

“Darlene believed that science was the key to finding solutions,” says Darlene’s husband, Gary Walton.

“She viewed HRI’s practical research as vital to the future of our nation’s mental health, and our family is grateful that her passion will live on through the generous donations made to this scholarship fund. We are very pleased that Alyna is the first recipient of Darlene’s award. Darlene would be so happy to know that her legacy is supporting the next generation of researchers and scientists who will make a difference.”

“We can’t think of a student more deserving of the Darlene Walton Scholarship Fund than Alyna Walji,” says Dr. Costello.

“Darlene is an inspiration to us all, and we are pleased to honour her by awarding this scholarship to a student who shares Darlene’s vision of a brighter future.”

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Exploring the use of CBD in treating alcohol use disorder

The CBD industry is booming. CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant that is marketed as a cure-all and added to everything from bath bombs to dog treats.

But has the hype of CBD gotten ahead of the science?

“The use of medical cannabis in Canada has increased by 2000 per cent since 2014, but the evidence to support its therapeutic benefits simply isn’t there,” says Dr. James MacKillop, Senior Scientist at Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and Director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Dr. MacKillop is overseeing research that will help to address this need for evidence in Canada.

One of the most pressing questions surrounding the therapeutic application of CBD relates to its potential for treating addiction – specifically, alcohol use disorder.

Jasmine Turna

Dr. Jasmine Turna

Recently, Dr. Jasmine Turna, an HRI Research Trainee and post-doctoral student working under Dr. MacKillop’s supervision, shared findings from a systematic review exploring CBD’s utility in treating alcohol use disorder. The review, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, sought to characterize existing literature from animal studies to evaluate the credibility of CBD as a potential treatment option for alcohol addiction.

In a webcast hosted by Homewood Health Centre on April 25th, Dr. Turna shared her findings with clinicians, researchers and other mental health professionals.

Three themes emerged from the literature review:

  1. CBD may have the potential to limit alcohol-related liver damage.
  2. CBD may reduce brain degeneration associated with alcohol use, thereby protecting cognition.
  3. CBD may influence factors like impulse control and anxiety, thereby possibly reducing the risk of relapse.

Previous research on CBD suggests that the compound has notable anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may explain its potential to limit liver damage and neurodegeneration. CBD’s influence on relapse, on the other hand, could be attributed to its ability to affect risk factors associated with relapse, such as anxiety and impulsivity.

Next steps

While animal studies have generated promising findings, further research is now needed to determine whether these findings will translate to human studies. Dr. Turna’s review identifies three key areas in which CBD may produce therapeutic effects, providing clear avenues for human clinical trials. These include:

  1. Alcohol motivation: how does CBD affect cravings and withdrawal?
  2. Neurocognition: what effect does CBD have on the brain’s reward systems, learning, memory and cognitive function?
  3. Liver function: how does CBD impact liver enzymes indicative of liver health?

View the Webcast               Read the Article

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Do mental health apps work? HRI and The RBC Foundation want to find out.

As the need for mental health resources grows, technology will play an increasingly important role in the delivery of mental health services. In recent years, mental health apps have proliferated, providing smartphone users with fast and cost-effective access to portable resources that address everything from anxiety to eating disorders.

But how effective are mental health apps? With little to no research to support the claims of app developers, healthcare providers and consumers struggle to select and make the best use of these resources.

RBC funds project to help HRI find answers

A recent partnership between Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and The RBC Foundation will help to bring clarity to app users – particularly to youth who rely heavily on apps and smartphone technology.

The RBC Foundation has generously donated $207,000 to support a project aimed at examining the quality of mental health apps. HRI will work with faculty members from Harvard Medical School, including Dr. Yuri Quintana from the Division of Clinical Informatics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to carry out this research.

The funding announcement was made on May 9 at a public event hosted by HRI in Guelph, Ontario. Led by HRI, the mental health app project has two goals:

  1. Develop a framework to evaluate the effectiveness of mental health apps, and
  2. Identify top-quality apps aimed at addressing mental health problems, specifically among youth (pending further funding).

HRI has engaged Dr. Yuri Quintana, Director of Global Health Informatics at Harvard Medical School and a world leader in digital health services, to guide technical development on the project.

Building a roadmap for the future

As the field of digital psychiatry grows, so too does the need to identify credible online resources. By building tools that enable the large-scale evaluation of mental health apps, The RBC Foundation and HRI are helping to create an evidence-informed roadmap for future users of digital mental health services.

Outcomes of the project will be relevant to healthcare providers and other agencies around the globe that use mental health apps to supplement psychiatric treatment.

Representatives from the RBC Foundation proudly present HRI with funding to complete the mobile app project. (L-R: Mike DeBorger, Senior Account Manager, RBC; Rick Tessaro, Senior Account Manager, Real Estate, RBC; Francine Dyksterhuis, Regional President, Southwestern Ontario, RBC; Rob Schlegel, Chief Financial Officer, RBJ Schlegel Holdings; Dr. Roy Cameron, Executive Director, HRI; Mary Lou McCutcheon, Vice President, Commercial Financial Services, Agriculture, RBC; Mark Eaton, Vice President, Real Estate Markets, RBC; Cindy Chao, Senior Manager, Youth Strategy & Innovation, RBC)

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HRI shares findings and makes major funding announcement at HRI Research Day 2019

On May 9, 2019, guests from across South-Western Ontario were invited to attend a special event celebrating the impact of mental health research.

First responders, mental health professionals and other community members were in attendance for HRI Research Day, an annual event hosted by HRI. Guests had the opportunity to speak with HRI staff, scientists and trainees about research projects underway that are helping to improve treatment outcomes for Canadians living with mental illness and addiction.

Some of the research topics included:

HRI also announced a new partnership and a donation of $207,000 from the RBC Foundation, which will support a project aimed at improving digital mental health resources for youth.

Representatives from RBC were on-site to share details of the project, which will involve experts from HRI and Harvard Medical School and focus on evaluating the quality of mobile mental health apps. The project will benefit consumers and healthcare providers alike, generating evidence about how to select and make the best use of mental health apps.

Members of HRI’s trauma research team. L-R: Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma; Heather Millman, Project Coordinator; Alina Protopopescu, HRI Research Trainee (McMaster University); Chantelle Lloyd, HRI Research Trainee (Western University)

Anna Park, HRI Research Trainee (McMaster University)

HRI Research Trainees from McMaster University L-R: Sophia Roth, Bethany Easterbrook, Aamna Qureshi, Anna Park, Chantalle Lloyd

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A special announcement from HRI

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Kenneth Murray, a revered community leader and long-time member of HRI’s Board of Directors.

As a member of the HRI Board, Ken provided vital oversight to HRI as our organization progressed from a small start-up to a nationally focused entity. He recognized early on the importance of collaboration with other organizations, and was instrumental in creating the spirit of co-operation to enhance collective impact that guides HRI’s strategic approach to this day.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a true gentleman and extend our condolences to Ken’s wife, Marilyn, and his family,” says Ron Schlegel, Chair of the HRI Board.

“I’ve known Ken for over 30 years and have been inspired by his deep and unwavering commitment to using research and education to promote the best possible quality of life for people who are aging or affected by mental illness and addiction.”

Ken’s professional legacy is remarkable. By one colorful account of his life, he began by nailing wooden egg cartons together at J.M. Schneider Inc. in Kitchener, Ontario. His work ethic and business savvy would earn him many promotions over the years; in 1969, he was appointed President and CEO of the company. During his 17-year term as President and CEO, he saw Schneider’s sales grow from $70 million to $650 million.

During his time at Schneider’s, Ken recognized the importance of mental health and well-being among his employees and their families. He took every opportunity to create employment conditions conducive to mental health and would go on to become a notable philanthropist, committed to advancing mental health initiatives.

Perhaps the project closest to Ken’s heart was the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Project (MAREP). His first wife, Helen, lived her last years with Alzheimer’s disease. Learning first-hand just how devastating this illness could be, Ken assembled a team and created MAREP. The organization integrates research and education to improve dementia care practices and quality of life for people diagnosed with age-related cognitive impairments.

In 2001, Ken was appointed a member of the Order of Canada for his generous contributions to community organizations, including the Universities of Waterloo and Guelph, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation. He was also the recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal for his community service.

Ken used his corporate leadership, his philanthropy and his wisdom to make a profound difference to a great many people in his lifetime. His legacy is enormous and truly inspiring.

Thank you, Ken, for all you’ve done to advance HRI’s mission and beyond that, to do so much in so many ways to improve the lives of Canadians.

Kenneth Murray’s obituary and details about his celebration of life can be found here.

Save the date: HRI Research Day

Homewood Research Institute (HRI) is proud to help the Canadian Mental Health Association #getloud about mental health with a special event on May 9, 2019.

Join us for HRI Research Day – Spring 2019, a free public event where the HRI team will be available to answer your questions about mental health and addiction research.

  • Find out how we’re engaging thought leaders across Canada to address some of our nation’s most pressing mental health and addiction challenges
  • Learn about applied research and how it’s helping to transform the way we treat mental health and addiction in real time
  • Get details on the latest research projects underway at HRI and how they can help people across Canada and beyond

Date: Thursday, May 9, 2019
Time: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (light lunch included)
Venue: 10C (42 Carden St. Guelph – 4th Floor Community Classroom)
RSVP: Click to register today
Cost: Free

This event is helping to raise awareness about mental health in celebration of CMHA Mental Health Week. For more information about how you can help Canada #getloud during Mental Health Week, click here.

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HRI scientist awarded funding to advance promising trauma research

Cognitive tool aims to help veterans and military members

On February 1, Homewood Research Institute (HRI) announced the expansion of vital research that provides hope for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Early studies led by HRI among inpatients being treated for PTSD suggest that a cognitive training program called Goal Management Training (GMT) helps to reduce symptoms common among people with PTSD, including difficulty with memory, attention, planning and organization.

Thanks to a three-way funding partnership between the Military Casualty Support Foundation, The Cowan Foundation, and RBJ Schlegel Holdings, research will now be expanded to two outpatient clinics in Ontario to evaluate the utility of GMT among military members and veterans with PTSD.

Dr. Margaret McKinnon is Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma and the principal investigator behind the GMT studies. She hopes to replicate early findings from inpatient studies among outpatient groups. Her team will evaluate the impact of GMT in the military population at Operational Stress Injury clinics in both Toronto and London.

The introduction of GMT among military professionals is timely: Veterans Affairs Canada reports that nearly 20,000 veterans and armed forces members have now been diagnosed with PTSD.1

Related reading:
Goal therapy treatment helps ease life for veterans with PTSD, CBC
(February 8, 2019)

Further funding to benefit public safety personnel

On February 8, McMaster University announced that Dr. McKinnon was also the recipient of a one-year $150,000 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). McKinnon is one of 22 researchers to receive funding to support the advancement of research that will help people with post-traumatic stress injuries.

Importantly, Dr. McKinnon will focus her studies on public safety personnel – including paramedics, correctional workers, police officers and firefighters – who are frequently exposed to traumatic events that increase their risk of developing post-traumatic stress injuries. A randomized control trial will explore how GMT can benefit public safety workers with PTSD and co-morbid conditions.

Related reading:
Wilfrid Laurier, Guelph researchers receive grants to study PTSD in public safety workers, CBC
(February 8, 2019)
France and Hamilton team up to study depression, The Hamilton Spectator
(February 14, 2019)



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