Biomarkers and interventions for mild traumatic brain injury and intimate partner violence

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI; e.g. concussion) results in a range of symptoms that disrupt daily life, and many mTBI patients go on to suffer persistent post-concussion symptoms (PPCS) that last for months to years. There are no reliable biomarkers for mTBI and PPCS, or interventions known to improve recovery.

This project will therefore assess the use of blood biomarkers as diagnostic and prognostic methods for mTBI and PPCS, and also investigate whether exercise intervention early after mTBI improves recovery. This project will also examine a grossly understudied cause of brain injury — intimate partner violence (IPV). Despite evidence of mTBI in approximately 90 percent of IPV survivors, the nature of this brain damage and how it contributes to their lived experience is poorly understood. Therefore, another goal of this project is to investigate the neurological health and a range biomarkers reflective of brain injury in women with a history of IPV.

In partnership with knowledge users (e.g. clinicians, nurses, patients, scientists), the findings from this project will facilitate the development of evidence-based interventions, education programs, and changes in practice and policy that improve the care of those who have suffered mTBIs.

A patient-oriented mental health recovery effort: Working across sectors to alleviate suffering related to burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder, or treatment resistant depression

The mental health of healthcare providers is understudied and inadequately supported, especially given the current pandemic. Workplace stress can lead to burnout, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Treatment Resistant Depression (TRD), which affects morale, absenteeism, retention, and patient care. The focus of this application is to address PTSD and TRD with a combination therapy involving Roots to Thrive (RTT) Communities of Practice (CoP) with Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP). The RTT CoP have documented enhanced efficacy for resilience, mental wellness and cognition. Ketamine is described as the single most important advancement in the treatment of depression in over 50 years.

My program of research innovatively examines the synergy of these two interventions, an evidence-based treatment known as RTT CoP-KAP. My research aims to lead the development and implementation of a more inclusive mental health model that continues to prescribe connection to self, spirit, and community as the primary healing modality, and further supporting with medicine-assisted healing modalities (beginning with ketamine and then expanding to include MDMA).

Developing a curriculum that promotes self-compassion among healthcare providers



  • Alexa Garrey
    Vancouver Island University

Healthcare workers experience high rates of stress leave and attrition due to unaddressed mental health needs. While some providers leave the workplace because of burnout, many stay, which compounds the issue and contributes to toxic workplaces and higher patient mortality rates.

New research shows that self-compassion — defined as unconditional positive regard turned inward — is a significant contributor to healthy communities of practice, and promotes the ability to manage workplace stressors (Dames, 2018). The project team will:

  1. Co-develop an evidence-based curriculum and tools that will inform and improve practice by promoting self-compassion among healthcare providers within Island Health and Vancouver Island University.
  2. Build capacity for knowledge translation and future research to study curriculum outcomes.

The curriculum will help providers develop an ability to learn of, articulate, and digest emotions in a safe environment of unconditional positive regard for self. When providers lack self-compassion, they are at a higher risk of mental and physical ailments, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. Rather than turning to substances/activities that lead to dissociation or avoidance, this curriculum will enable participants to cultivate a habit of self-soothing by nurturing themselves with loving kindness.

At the end of the Reach award, the research team will have completed a literature review, curriculum, and submitted a grant application to fund a pilot study on Vancouver Island. The curriculum is expected to improve stress resilience among providers, decrease the use of substances to cope with stress or distress, reduce attrition rates due to burnout, and promote relationally healthy communities of practice (CoP, defined by Wenger as a “group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”). The proposed curriculum will enhance the mental health and well-being of providers; instilling self-compassion in providers is shown to improve experience and outcomes for patients. Those who direct compassion inwardly naturally extend compassion to others.

This Reach award will cover the costs of bringing stakeholders together to develop the curriculum and to draft an application for the pilot study. This project's potential impact on patient and provider outcomes is enormous and well aligned with health authority and provincial priorities.