Shining a spotlight on mental health research

Mental Health

Shining a spotlight on mental health research

Queen’s researchers are tackling the Canadian mental health crisis.

By Justine Pineau, Coordinator, Strategic Initiatives

January 26, 2024


Mental health awareness.

Queen's researchers are exploring solutions to Canada's mental health challenges.

The pervasive impact of mental illness extends beyond age, education, income, and cultural backgrounds. A 2023 report from Statistics Canada has revealed that despite over half of Canadians reporting very good or excellent overall health, mental health is on a concerning decline. Anxiety and mood disorders, particularly among vulnerable populations, have surged, with a notable impact on adults aged 18 to 34 years. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, in any given year 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness – a stark reality that underscores the urgent need for comprehensive research and intervention.

Queen’s researchers are navigating this complex landscape through multidisciplinary lenses, driven by a commitment to understanding the interplay of systemic inequalities and societal factors impacting mental well-being. Below are some highlights of recent and ongoing Queen’s research projects that explore diverse avenues to bolster mental health in Canada.

Advancing wellness support

The Cancer and Severe Mental Illness Project (CaSMIP), led by Oyedeji Ayonrinde (Psychiatry), addresses the obstacles faced by individuals dealing with both cancer and severe mental illness (SMI). The research highlights the difficulties individuals with SMI face in navigating everyday life, compounded by cognitive challenges, delusions, and medication side effects. The project identifies various points along the cancer pathway where individuals with SMI may face disadvantages, including limited access to prevention strategies, disparities in access to screening, and diagnostic overshadowing where mental health issues may overshadow physical health concerns. The research emphasizes the importance of addressing these equity issues, to eliminate barriers and promote cancer care for individuals with severe mental illness.

Queen’s researcher Wendy Craig (Psychology), the Co-Scientific Director of the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), recently secured $550,000 in funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada to address gender-based violence within the student sector. Dr. Craig’s project aims to improve educators’ capacity to address gender-based violence and optimize student mental health and well-being. By empowering educators to recognize, prevent, and respond to gender-based violence among youth, this research is contributing to safer schools and more inclusive learning environments for students.

Faculty of Education graduate student Jodi Basch conducted research on resilience among postsecondary students transitioning from high school to first-year university, a stage marked by extensive life transitions when mental health challenges often emerge. With her PhD now complete, she will apply her findings to positively impact students through psychotherapy practice, teaching, and consulting, translating her research into meaningful contributions to mental health and well-being within university communities.

Anne Duffy (Psychiatry) secured $960,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and funding partners to advance a translational research program that actively engages students from university entry throughout their undergraduate studies, initiating a meaningful conversation about their mental health through a digital survey. Dr. Duffy and her team in the Department of Psychiatry have also developed a digital well-being platform that allows students to access personalized plans and self-monitoring tools. They recently received a donation from The Rossy Foundation to establish the U-Flourish Centre, a mental-health research centre that will generate and translate evidence into resources, tools, educational assets, and integrated care models to support student well-being.

Nurturing family mental health pathways

Additionally, a collaborative review led by Dr. Duffy, published in Nature Mental Health, sheds light on the need for evidence-based strategies to proactively support children with parents suffering from severe mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. The researchers advocate for a comprehensive, proactive approach to support both parents and their children, addressing potential risks of psychological, social, and academic challenges faced by these children. The article stresses the significance of early intervention, family-oriented strategies, and the development of tools and resources to benefit not only the individuals involved, but society as a whole.

“Children of a parent with severe mental illness are an overlooked high-risk group for whom mental health promotion and early intervention could have a profound impact. Parents play a vital role in the healthy development of their children, and when parents are struggling themselves with illness, families can pay a heavy price.”

– Dr. Anne Duffy

James Reynolds (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) was awarded $1.25 million over five years for the Infant and Early Mental Health (IEMH) Care Pathways Project, from CIHR. The project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the IEMH Care Pathways model in preventing and treating early childhood mental health disorders. The research will also assess the IEMH Core Component Framework, providing community organizations with a tool to enhance their programs and prioritize improvements. The findings are expected to contribute to the development of a more effective and systematic framework for Canadian communities to support children at risk of poor mental health outcomes.

Shahirose Sadrudin Premji, a health scientist, and Sally Smith Chair in the School of Nursing, researches mental health during pregnancy and postpartum. Her work focuses on depression and anxiety, and aims to understand the social, cultural, and biological factors influencing mental health conditions in pregnant individuals, especially in underrepresented populations facing extreme psychosocial stresses. This research has the potential to guide personalized mental health care for pregnant individuals and engage stakeholders from low- and middle-income countries in research partnerships.

The School of Rehabilitation Therapy (SRT) conducts research to advance understanding of the impact of development, health, illness, and injury on goal-directed movement throughout life. Heidi Cramm’s research within the Families Matter Research Group centers on improving the health and well-being of families connected to military members, veterans, and public safety personnel, addressing their unique and often overlooked health needs. She leads multiple studies, including a SSHRC-funded partnership development grant and a CIHR Team Grant, both aimed at enhancing mental wellness in these family groups.


Queen’s was recently awarded $100K from Bell Let’s Talk to expand mental health resources for students identifying as Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (QTBIPOC). 
Read more

Heather Stuart on Bell Let's Talk day.

On Bell Let's Talk day, Heather Stuart addressed the stigma around mental health. Dr. Stuart holds the Bell Canada Chair in Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research at Queen’s, the first of its kind in Canada. As a Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences as well as Psychiatry and the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, her extensive research portfolio focuses on psychiatric epidemiology, community mental health, and stigma reduction, with notable contributions to areas such as mental health needs assessments, suicide prevention, and workplace mental health.

Navigating the frontlines of mental health

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR), a national research institute based at Queen’s, has been instrumental in advancing the understanding and treatment of physical and mental health challenges faced by Canadian Armed Forces veterans, military personnel, and their families. Since its establishment in 2010, CIMVHR has conducted extensive research aimed at addressing the heightened risks of conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder within the military population. Over the years, the institute has grown into a nationwide network with 46 universities with approximately 1,600 researchers across Canada.

Megan Edgelow’s research within the SRT examines workplace mental health interventions for public safety personnel, given their exposure to psychological trauma in daily work. While the importance of addressing mental health in this group is acknowledged, the implementation of interventions is not well understood. The research suggests a need for broader implementation strategies beyond group training and emphasizes further research to determine the most effective programs for mental health prevention and treatment within the workplace for public safety personnel.

Recent research led by Julian Barling, Borden Chair of Leadership at Smith School of Business, highlights the biased expectations imposed on leaders and their repercussions on well-being. The study indicates a common belief that leaders have better access to mental health resources, fostering the perception that they are less likely to experience mental health challenges. The research emphasizes the need for a more profound understanding and acceptance of mental health in the workplace, advocating for increased efforts to challenge biases and achieve genuine inclusivity throughout the organizational hierarchy.

As part of the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF), a special call for research projects focusing on post-pandemic recovery saw half a million dollars awarded to Li-Jun Ji (Psychology), to address mental health challenges faced by healthcare workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The research, in collaboration with researchers from China, involves a cutting-edge online intervention that is anonymous, flexible, time-efficient, and accessible. The intervention consists of a series of writing exercises that use AI-guided art generation to help people express their emotional responses to the pandemic in a culturally acceptable manner.

Another project supported by the NFRF Special Call is being led by Jacqueline Galica and Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, in Queen’s School of Nursing. Their research focuses on organizational compassion and how it can be used to facilitate post-pandemic recovery, such as post-traumatic stress experienced by front-line healthcare providers. The team is investigating how workplace characteristics impact workers’ mental health, with special attention to tools rooted in social support, respectful culture, and compassion role modeling by managers.

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