Advancing research for military and veteran mental health

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Military members and veterans are among those most vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There is an urgent need to identify new and innovative treatments that will help military members suffering from trauma-related illnesses.

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) hosts an annual forum, bringing together thought leaders from the government, research institutions, industry and philanthropic sectors. A major goal of the forum is to understand how new research findings can be used to help military personnel, veterans and their families.

Here are some highlights outlining HRI’s contributions to this year’s forum.

Building a national network for trauma research

HRI has been bringing leaders together to identify research needs that will have the greatest benefit for people with PTSD.

On October 16, Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Homewood Chair in Mental Health and Trauma, led an interactive workshop, building on a collaborative planning exercise that took place at the 2014 CIMVHR forum. The workshop invited input to establish research priorities for the next four years.

The session attracted a broad range of stakeholders, including individuals with PTSD, scientists, clinicians, military members, public safety professionals, and first responders.

Dr. McKinnon and Dr. Ruth Lanius shared findings from research conducted since 2014, and facilitated discussions to shape the next phase of the HRI research program. The session also set the stage for partnering with other organizations, including the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT), which uses research to improve treatment in first responders.

Leading discussions about cannabis

Dr. James MacKillop, HRI Senior Scientist and Director of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research and the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research appeared as a keynote speaker at this year’s CIMVHR Forum, sharing insights from the latest medical research on cannabis a mere 15 hours before its legalization.

“While there is relatively consistent evidence supporting cannabis as an approach to pain management, that doesn’t mean cannabis use comes without risk,” says Dr. MacKillop.

According to MacKillop, two of the biggest risk factors include:

  1. Impairment, particularly motor coordination impairment, which could lead to motor vehicle collisions and workplace accidents, and
  2. Overconsumption, which can cause delirium and psychosis.

Dr. MacKillop also reminded attendees that – contrary to popular belief – cannabis is addictive.

“Although cannabis is far from being the most addictive drug, its actions in the brain are similar to drugs like alcohol, cocaine and heroin; it affects the same regions that are responsible for reward and motivation.”

Dr. MacKillop is a leading authority on cannabis and has been in the media spotlight recently. Click to read more about his contributions to national discussions about the legalization of cannabis.

HRI Research Trainee receives award for moral injury study

We are pleased to announce that HRI Research Trainee, Alina Protopopescu, was the recipient of the 2018 Editor’s Choice Award at this year’s CIMVHR Forum.

Dr. Stephanie Belanger, Associate Scientific Director of CIMVHR, presents the 2018 Editor’s Choice Award to Alina Protopopescu. (Photo credit: CIMVHR)

Alina, a PhD Candidate in the Research and Clinical Training Stream in the Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour Program at McMaster University, received the award for her presentation of recent findings that examined the relationship between childhood abuse and moral injury.

A moral injury may occur when a person is forced by circumstances to act in a way that violates his or her moral standards. For example, consider the soldier who may have no choice but to harm innocent people while stopping a major terrorist assault.

In the presentation, Alina shared results from a study conducted in collaboration with Anthony Battaglia, which suggested that military personnel and veterans who experience childhood emotional abuse may be at risk for developing a moral injury during their service. The findings provide clues as to how we can better treat moral injury, particularly in populations like military members and veterans.

Congratulations, Alina, on your award!