HomeNews & TopicsFrom the CEO's DeskImproving lives by advancing understanding of mental health and addiction

Improving lives by advancing understanding of mental health and addiction

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As the world grappled with the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, another alarming crisis quietly emerged – a surge in cases of intimate partner violence (IPV). While the coronavirus significantly impacted our health care system, economy, and daily life, it also illuminated the vulnerabilities of those trapped in abusive relationships.

Intimate partner violence is a pervasive and growing concern, and the Canadian government and an increasing number of municipalities recently declared intimate partner violence an epidemic. 

Collaborative efforts spearheaded by Dr. N. Zoe Hilton and the Waypoint Research Institute (WRI) are contributing to addressing this immediate crisis while also laying the groundwork for a future in which a unified response strategy becomes a cornerstone in tackling IPV.

Working with police services and universities in Alberta, New Brunswick and Ontario, this team of researchers are working to establish a common language for assessing and discussing IPV risks, using a data-driven approach to prevent and mitigate their impacts.

Dr. Hilton is a Full Professor at the University of Toronto whose on-line educational program supporting the use of the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment tool attracts over 1,000 professionals per year across six continents. She regularly consults to organizations nationally and internationally to support their efforts to reduce the occurrence of domestic violence. 

Her latest study is one of a number of groundbreaking studies the WRI is undertaking to improve lives locally and around the world, in this case through a focus on social conditions and prevention of trauma, a risk factor that can lead to or exacerbate mental illness and addictions.

Waypoint’s Research Institute is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and it is with immense pride and gratitude that I reflect on the remarkable work underway to advance understanding of mental illness and addictions, the progress we’ve made, and the countless lives impacted by the unwavering commitment to pioneering research and compassionate care. 

Founded on a strong legacy of more than 40 years of research excellence at the hospital, WRI consistently pushes the boundaries of knowledge, fostering innovation and collaboration, and forging partnerships across the globe. 

Our initiatives have advanced access to evidence-based treatments and influenced global policy-making and health care practices. I am particularly proud of the increasing integration of patient perspectives, co-leadership and co-design into our research activities, which aligns with our organizational values of Caring, Respect, Innovation and Accountability and ensures the relevance and impact of our research.

Looking ahead, artificial intelligence (AI) is emerging as a game changer in health care and research. With studies showing a decline in overall mental health since the pandemic, and the growing acuity and complexity of the patients we serve in hospital, Dr. Andrea Waddell and her research team are leveraging AI to make care safer for mental health inpatients through the development of an early warning score. 

Early warning scores are tools used by hospital care teams to recognize the early signs of clinical deterioration. The integration of machine learning algorithms and natural language processing is transformational for psychiatric care, offering the potential to predict crises before they unfold and intervene earlier, ultimately leading to improved patient outcomes. Dr. Waddell’s research beautifully illustrates the value of collaboration between clinicians and researchers to yield new insights and lay the groundwork for successful implementation of a new tool. At Waypoint we believe the whole hospital is the research institute, and we’ve been thrilled to launch new a new program supporting health professional scholars throughout the hospital.

The spirit of discovery and innovation at WRI extends far beyond advancing safety. From brain imaging studies to launching a preventative online mental health program for youth, we have a broad commitment to understanding and improving mental health and addiction innovating treatments and service delivery models, breaking down barriers and
fostering resilience.

Looking back on our 10-year journey, the establishment in 2020 of a Research Chair in Forensic Mental Health Science is another accomplishment that stands out. One of the first of its kind in Canada and among only a handful in the world, the position is a collaboration between Waypoint and the University of Toronto Faculty Of Medicine. Our forward-thinking approach to forensic mental health research is shedding light on how to improve services and patient outcomes in a field where knowledge gaps – and the double stigma of mental illness and justice system involvement – sadly persist. 

As one of four standalone specialized mental health and addiction hospitals in Ontario, Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care serves some of the province’s most complex and disadvantaged populations. We know from our experience the power of research to drive change and improve patient and community health outcomes and experiences. We are excited and energized as we turn our minds to the next ten years of further strengthening and growing WRI, transforming Waypoint into a learning health system and our partnerships into learning networks – dynamic entities that continually integrate research evidence and real world data to improve care delivery together.

WRI researchers are achieving significant success through competitive grant funding, and Waypoint is also grateful to donors who support our vision for transformational research. Funds raised at this year’s annual Waypoint gala, to be held on Dec. 8, 2023, will be directed to the WRI. The newly established Breakthrough Fund offers meaningful opportunities for donors to contribute to life-changing advancements in research and care.

In celebrating this 10-year milestone, I extend my deepest appreciation to the dedicated team of researchers, scientists, clinicians and support staff who have made this progress possible. Together, we are enhancing the lives of individuals affected by mental illness and addictions; and we look forward to continuing to lead in research that creates a brighter, healthier future for all.

By Dr. Nadiya Sunderji 

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