Professional News
Canadian Researchers Celebrate Country's Neuroscience Legacy
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 11 page 7-7

In 1983 Canadian psychiatrist Dan Offord, M.D., started the Ontario Child Health Study, a prospective cohort study of children's mental health that continues today. Offord and his team interviewed 1,869 Ontario families, with 3,294 children aged 4 to 16 years at enrollment, randomly selected from Canada's 1981 census.

The landmark study showed that 1 in 5 Ontario children had symptoms of mental health problems. It confirmed links between these symptoms and poverty, family difficulties, poor school performance, and medical illness. It also prompted the establishment of the Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, now called the Offord Centre, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and sparked a host of early intervention programs in both Canada and the United States.

Offord, who died in 2004 at age 70, is among the leaders of Canadian psychiatry profiled in Psyche in the Lab: Celebrating Brain Science in Canada. Published to mark the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Psychiatric Research Foundation (CPRF), the book was launched at APA's annual meeting in Toronto last month. According to its Web site, CPRF is "a national charitable organization founded in 1980 to raise and distribute funds for psychiatric research and awareness in Canada."

"We strived to represent varied fields of psychiatric research and geographic regions of Canada" in the book, said Mary Seeman, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a member of the CPRF board. Seeman cowrote the book with her son, Neil Seeman, a Toronto health care consultant, lawyer, and journalist.

Many researchers featured in the book received CPRF grants early in their careers, she said. The book also showcases philanthropists, consumer advocates, volunteers, lay healers, and people with mental illness whose donations of funds and personal service support and advance psychiatric research.

Using Seeman's questions, David Gentili, a recent graduate of Queen's University, visited and interviewed nearly all of the book's subjects, providing transcripts that Mary and Neil Seeman edited. The authors also drew on subjects' published papers and comments from colleagues and others, completing the 250-page book's 32 chapters in only one year.

Harvey Chochinov, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, another interviewee, designed a brief psychotherapeutic intervention, known as dignity therapy, for people nearing death. It consists of a 30- to 60-minute tape-recorded session in which therapists invite ill people to review aspects of their lives they most want others to remember. Patients receive edited transcripts to share with their families.

The majority of 100 terminally ill cancer patients participating in a clinical trial of dignity therapy reported that this intervention eased their suffering and depression, and increased their sense of purpose and meaning. Few drug-based therapies offer those benefits, Chochinov observed. With funding from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), he and others are embarking on an international randomized, controlled trial to compare dignity therapy with supportive psychotherapy and standard palliative care (see<http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct/show/NCT00133965?order=1>).

CPRF hopes Psyche in the Lab will prompt young people to pursue careers in psychiatric research, raise funds for grants to young researchers, and help normalize psychiatric illness, Seeman said.

Sandra Sharwood, age 70 when interviewed for the book, described her lifelong struggle with mental illness. She was diagnosed at age 14 with depression, a disorder that also affects her sister and one of her sons. She received electroconvulsive therapy, and despite intermittent episodes of depression, she went on to design training programs for staff at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and to serve as a community mental health educator and advocate.

"I'm very quick to tell people I suffer from mental illness," said Sharwood. A member of CPRF's board, she has received numerous awards for outstanding volunteer services.

Doris Sommer-Rotenberg helped raise $1 million for suicide research in memory of her son Arthur, a family physician, who died by suicide at age 36. The University of Toronto matched that sum, creating the Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide Studies. It is the only endowed chair in North America dedicated to this topic. "That in itself attests to the silence that has historically surrounded suicide," Sommer-Rotenberg said.

Michael Wilson, recently named Canada's ambassador to the United States, also lost a son to suicide: Cameron was age 29 when he died. Wilson led a fundraising campaign that endowed the Cameron Parker Holcombe Wilson Chair in Depression Studies at the University of Toronto. He chairs the Neuroscience Canada Partnership and NeuroScience Canada Foundation, which aim to accelerate discovery and development of new treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases, the leading cause of disability in Canada.

Many researchers interviewed for the book reported mental illness in relatives or friends spurred their academic interests. "No family is spared," Seeman observed.

Rémi Quirion, M.D., serves as scientific director of the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health, and Addiction (INMHA) at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian equivalent of the NIMH, in Verdun, Québec. Secrecy and stigma cloud understanding of mental illness, he said. Boosting public awareness and understanding of psychiatric disorders, he suggested, should fuel demand for increased government action and funding for research and treatment. "Mental health," Quirion contended," should be on all politicians' minds."

The table of contents pf Psyche in the Lab may be viewed online at<www.hhpub.com/books/isbn/0-88937-304-3.html>.

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