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

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Generous funding from the FDC Foundation the Ontario Trillium Foundation will support two projects that will benefit civilians and youth living with mental health problems.

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.