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New VIU research centre set up to study trauma and mental health issues

Nanaimo News Bulletin - 6/3/2024

A new research centre at Vancouver Island University could help improve quality of life for people impacted by trauma and mental health issues.

In any given year, one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness and the economic cost of mental illnesses to Canadian health-care and social support systems was projected at almost $80 billion in 2021, according to a VIU press release.

The university's centre for trauma and mental health research was created to develop approaches to prevent, detect and treat different forms of trauma and related mental health issues.

"Trauma and related mental health problems affect people from all walks of life and can have devastating consequences," said Sandy Shultz, centre director, in the release. "Unfortunately, these are issues that are particularly prevalent in our region. Because many of these conditions are resistant to current treatment methods, it's critical to develop new interventions as well as preventative strategies."

The centre includes VIU researchers from health sciences, chemistry and kinesiology who have dedicated their careers to helping people recover from trauma and mental illness and can take different approaches to address within their overlapping fields.

Shultz leads a B.C.-wide research network in collaboration with Island Health that focuses on brain injury due to domestic violence. The project, funded by Michael Smith Health Research B.C., investigates methods to detect brain injury in these situations. He is also developing interventions to improve recovery and recently received two research grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research – one in partnership with the University of Victoria – as well as a U.S. Department of Defense grant in partnership with the University of British Columbia. Part of the centre's infrastructure and equipment is funded through Canada Foundation for Innovation grants awarded to Shultz.

Shultz, along with VIU nursing professor Shannon Dames and adjunct professor Pamela Kryskow, are investigating how psychedelic-assisted therapy can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries. Health sciences and human services professor Leigh Blaney's research into helping firefighters and other first responders cope with the physical and mental effects from experiencing traumatic incidents is also being drawn upon and Michael Asmussen is investigating the structure, function and neural control of the foot and ankle during movement in healthy, injured and diseased states and translating this into innovative health-care solutions.

The centre will also provide volunteer and paid research positions for undergraduate and graduate students.

"This new research centre will enable VIU faculty pursuing cutting-edge research related to trauma and mental health to collaborate with one another and external partners to address pressing issues in society," said Nicole Vaugeois, associate vice-president of research and graduate studies. "Our students will receive opportunities to learn from them and deepen their learning experience by engaging in research."