Mental health research at UBC benefits from half million dollar government fund

A fund from the provincial government awarded over $560,000 to mental health researchers at UBC.

Dr. Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, a professor in the School of Populations and Public Health, and Dr. Noah Silverberg, an associate professor in psychology, both received funding from the BC Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF). The fund will support the development of research projects by giving them access to new equipment and resources.

Assistant Professor in clinical psychology Dr. Samantha Dawson and Assistant Professor in the School of Population and Public Health Dr. Anne Gadermann have also received funding for projects that focus on patient-centred care.

With this new funding, UBC researchers aim to refine and improve mental health therapies for vulnerable populations and local communities.

Oviedo-Joekes aims to use this funding to support those with opioid-use disorder. Her team is developing a “person-centered custom electronic data collection system framework” that will compile information from multiple data sets, from medication records to outcome data.

This framework will allow researchers to facilitate “innovative new treatments” and benefit those with opioid-use disorder, according to a government press release.

This informative project comes with challenges, as special consideration must be given to ensure that infrastructures do not “antagonize” the people they aim to support, explained Oviedo-Joekes.

“In our field, you want a mesh of things that are meaningful to the folks who live these issues daily,” she said. “If we want to ask a lot of people certain questions, we need to improve the questions we ask in a way that is meaningful to the diverse needs of our clients and that infrastructure is expensive.”

Oviedo-Joekes expressed gratitude for her team’s funding and is looking forward to working with knowledgeable people to build innovative treatment methods.

Silverberg’s research is also focused on understanding how mental illness impacts the population, specifically why some people have ongoing neurological symptoms after experiencing a concussion. He explained many of his clients experience memory problems, but their results return as normal when tested.

“So these patients have their subjective experiences, that their memory is terrible and not trustworthy, something to be avoided so they don’t embarrass themselves and so on. But when we assess their memory, it looks normal,” he said.

The most significant resources he was able to acquire thanks to the fund included an electroencephalogram (a machine to measure the brain’s electrical activity) and electrodermal equipment to measure electrical activity in the skin through sweat glands. Telehealth resources have also been funded.

This equipment will help Silverberg and his team better understand the gap between patients’ experience and medical tests and inform what can be done to close it.

“Our hope is also to develop some of these electrophysiological measures as treatment outcome indicators,” he said. “We want to understand whether people are getting better not just in terms of their symptoms and what they’re telling us but also seeing evidence … using those kinds of measures.”

The BCKDF has provided researchers with the crucial tools to make progress within person-centred therapies. Both Oviedo-Joekes and Silverberg said they hope to continue working to improve the methodologies used within the mental health field.

“There is no area of our life that is not touched by this topic,” said Ovideo-Joekes.