HRI Trainee working to help people with military trauma, pandemic-related mental illness

Meet Kim Ritchie: a registered nurse, geriatric mental health expert, and HRI Trainee whose sights are set on helping those who serve and protect us every day.

Kim Ritchie

Kim is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. She works under the supervision of Dr. Margaret McKinnon, Homewood Research Chair in Mental Health and Trauma. Kim holds a PhD in Rehabilitation Science from Queen’s University and has extensive clinical experience in mental health, geriatric mental health, and professional practice.

Thanks to generous funding from Mitacs, the Cowan Foundation, the Military Casualty Support Foundation, and RBJ Schlegel, Kim is currently engaged in a study exploring the online delivery of a new treatment to help Canadian military members and veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Since 2016, HRI has been testing a brain-training program aimed at reducing cognitive struggles associated with PTSD, such as problems with memory, concentration, and planning. The program, called Goal Management Training (GMT), was developed for use in other patient populations, including people with traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, or stroke, who experience cognitive impairment. HRI’s work in this area, led by Dr. McKinnon, marks the first time GMT has been tested among people living with PTSD.

To date, results have been promising: GMT has been found to improve memory, attention, and the ability to engage in complex reasoning in people with PTSD.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the in-person delivery of GMT was halted. Researchers worked quickly to adapt GMT for online delivery. Kim is now evaluating the online program. Her Mitacs-funded study focuses on examining the virtual GMT program in a Quebec-based clinic for military members and veterans called the Occupational Stress Injury clinic. The results of Kim’s study will inform the future delivery of GMT online through OSI clinics and will seek to identify opportunities for improving the program to better serve people with PTSD.

In addition to her work with military members and veterans, Kim is also seeking to help two other important populations: Canada’s first responders and healthcare professionals.

Healthcare workers have been in the spotlight since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The magnitude of the mental health crisis among first responders – including healthcare professionals – has been the subject of news headlines around the world. Alongside Dr. McKinnon, Kim is now exploring the unique and shared lived experiences and psychological effects of the pandemic among healthcare and public safety workers. Together, their research is growing a body of knowledge that will inform novel approaches to assess, treat, and prevent mental illness in first responders, both now and post-pandemic.

To follow Kim’s work, visit her Research Gate profile.