Update on Post-traumatic Stress Research

Dear Colleagues,

Last spring, I spoke briefly about how Budget 2018 would impact our activities at CIHR-INMHA, particularly with respect to investments in post-traumatic stress (PTS) research. I am very pleased to be able to share an update on some recent developments in this area, as well as an overview of what we have planned going forward.

Research into Post-traumatic Stress Injuries (PTSI) in Public Safety Personnel (PSP)

Budget 2018 committed $20 million over five years to support a new national research consortium between CIHR and the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) to address PTSI among PSP. As part of this investment, CIPSRT will act as the consortium’s knowledge exchange hub, bringing together researchers funded through CIHR competitions with all relevant stakeholders in order to coordinate activities and move the knowledge created into active use.

Recently, the results of the first CIHR competition funded through this investment were announced, including 22 projects valued at up to $150,000 each, for a total investment of over $2.95 million. These projects are part of the Catalyst Grants in Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries (PSTI) among Public Safety Personnel competition that CIHR launched in July 2018. Funded researchers will be looking at mental health screening tools, peer support programs, resiliency training and understanding the prevalence of mental health disorders in Canadians in public safety occupations, among other topics. The full list of projects can be found online.

In addition, CIHR recently launched the Mental Wellness in Public Safety Team Grants competition, which represents a further investment of $8.4 million. These funds will support three-year projects designed to develop new research evidence and tools to address knowledge gaps in PTSI among public safety personnel in Canada. The results of this competition are expected to be available in March 2020.

These catalyst and team grants will serve as a springboard for researchers, stimulating new scientific knowledge on PTSI and increasing our understanding of how to identify, treat, and prevent PTSI among PSP. Furthermore, this investment into research and knowledge exchange demonstrates the incredible power of collaboration with several ministries, the research community, CIHR, CIPSRT and stakeholder groups coming together. I am incredibly proud of our collective progress and I look forward to keeping this momentum going.

Current and Future Trends in PTS Research in Canada

In addition to launching the PTSI in PSP funding opportunities, we have also been focusing efforts on informing future research and knowledge translation activities more broadly in PTS. As a first step, CIHR-INMHA recently hosted a multidisciplinary group of 14 experts in PTSD and related conditions for a scientific roundtable on PTS research in Canada. The meeting was co-chaired by two of Canada’s leading researchers in the area: Dr. Ruth Lanius, director of the posttraumatic stress disorder research unit at the University of Western Ontario and Jaideep Bains, professor at the University of Calgary. The goal of this meeting was to share knowledge and stimulate dialogue, and to ultimately inform CIHR’s PTS research agenda by defining key communities in Canada that are most affected by PTS and identifying specific research priorities.

By recognising key community groups that are particularly impacted by PTS in Canada, we can effectively target research funding opportunities and knowledge translation activities to areas with the greatest need. Roundtable participants specifically highlighted the following groups as those significantly impacted by PTS: Children and youth survivors of abuse, Indigenous people surviving inter-generational trauma and abuse, chronic disease patients (e.g., cancer survivors), front line workers including PSP and medical personnel, and military personnel and veterans.

Additional outcomes from the roundtable included achieving a preliminary consensus on near-, mid-, and long-term priority research areas. Examples include: improving the efficiency and availability of existing treatments and understanding the impact of guilt and shame (near-term), developing and testing non-human models of PTS and mitigating inter-generational impacts of traumatic stress (mid-term), and developing community-wide interventions (e.g., in Indigenous communities) and investigating how PTS impacts Canadian society as a whole (long-term).

The meeting report from this roundtable contains a wealth of additional information and is currently in the process of being finalized so that it can be posted to the CIHR-INMHA website. We will distribute the link to the report once it is published in our newsletter (subscribe here).

In addition to the CIHR roundtable, I was also privileged to participate recently in a PTS Roundtable event organized by the not-for-profit health solutions partner, Medavie. The objective of this event was to identify approaches to support families of serving and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces and first responders that have been impacted by operational stress injuries. I was pleased to be there on behalf of CIHR to better understand the current challenges that family members face, as well as the gaps in support, and to identify priority needs for these individuals as they care for loved ones affected by PTS.

Next Steps for a Broad PTS Research Strategy

Building on the success of delivering on the Budget 2018 commitment to PTSI in PSP and the incredibly productive expert roundtable, we are now looking towards further developing this research strategy at CIHR. Currently, this means INMHA is continuing to convene additional priority-setting meetings with stakeholders, as well as developing additional partnerships with other CIHR Institutes, Government of Canada ministries such as Veteran’s Affairs Canada and other groups, and exploring sustainable funding options. Importantly, I would like to acknowledge that PTS research at CIHR has long been a collaborative effort, with the Institutes of Aging, Cancer Research, Circulatory and Respiratory Health, Gender and Health and Indigenous Peoples’ Health working together from the early days of this initiative, and additional interest from other institutes emerging more recently. I thank my fellow institute colleagues for their past and ongoing support.

These partnerships and collaborations are facilitating the creation of new research funding opportunities. In addition, we are in the preliminary stages of planning a follow-up roundtable meeting with these additional stakeholders to define what a cross-cutting strategy at the national level would look like.

Finally, CIHR is participating in an upcoming conference on PTSD, being organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada to inform Canada’s Federal Framework on PTSD. This conference is being held in the context of the implementation of the Federal Framework on PTSD Act and  will inform the development of a comprehensive federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Welcoming Additional Expertise to the INMHA Team

Last but certainly not least, I am delighted to formally announce the appointment of Dr. Elizabeth Theriault to the CIHR-INMHA team in the position of Senior Consultant, Strategic Initiatives. Elizabeth brings a wealth of knowledge to our team, in particular given she served as Assistant Scientific Director of CIHR-INMHA from 2009 – 2016. Among other files, Elizabeth is leading the institute’s activities in post-traumatic stress research and I therefore invite you to reach out to her at any time with comments or questions regarding this file. You can find Elizabeth’s contact information on our website.

2019 is certainly off to an incredible start and I thank you for your continued interest and support in our activities. There is much more to come in what is sure to be an exciting and productive year ahead.


Samuel Weiss, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction

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