For three young scientists, winning the The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research’s 2018 Graduate Student Research Award has given them the opportunity to walk away not only with some much-appreciated financial support – but with new perspective on why the mental health research they are conducting is so important.
Michael Iro, Emma Lynn and Patricia Burhunduli are all Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Neuroscience candidates at the University of Ottawa, conducting their graduate research at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR).
Each of these students chose to pursue mental health research because of their fascination with the human brain and its connections to the mind, as well as their desire to help improve the lives of individuals living with depression.
Through their research, they are currently making important strides in understanding the biological underpinnings of depression and suicide (Patricia); investigating the effects of a cutting-edge anti-depressant alternative on brain activity (Michael); and improving daily cognitive functions for formerly depressed individuals to help reduce the risk of relapse (Emma).
Emma admits, however, that getting caught up in the day-to-day routine of conducting research can sometimes make it easy to “lose sight of the human impact of the work.” That is why, she said, the opportunity to meet the donors who help fund the annual IMHR Graduate Student Research Award was so impactful for her and her fellow award winners.
Emma, Michael and Patricia met with the families who established the Jennie James Depression Research Fund, the Allison Lees Depression Research Fund, and the Louise Helen Waddington Research Fund during a special luncheon held at the IMHR in November 2018.
During the luncheon, each of the donor families shared deeply personal stories about their loved ones, who are the namesakes of each of the depression research funds: three young women (Allison Lees, Jennie James, and Louise Helen Waddington) who suffered from depression and related conditions, and ultimately lost their lives to suicide.
Our young researchers are making important contributions to the mental health care landscape that will contribute to helping people suffering from depression get better, faster." - Dr. Zul Merali, former President & CEO, The Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research
Each of these young women’s families decided to create these funds to promote awareness and understanding around depression, and to support innovative mental health research and care.
Michael said that it was inspiring for him as a young researcher to hear from families who had suffered a significant loss related to mental illness but have not given up hope. “In addition to my personal motivations to make a difference in depression research, I was given the opportunity to see beyond the illness, and speak to the people affected – those who have chosen to take up the fight for mental health,” he said.
“I think those encounters were a gift.”
Given that sustainable funding for research continues to pose a challenge in, Patricia said that receiving this award also helped affirm that innovative mental health research continues to be recognized and supported in the larger community.
“Hearing the [donors’] stories and the reasons for why they donate reminds us that there are people who believe in us and want to support us,” she said. “This inspires us to continue.”
Dr. Zul Merali, former President & CEO of the IMHR added that by supporting research and educational opportunities for young scientists, donors play an important role in helping the IMHR to build research capacity for the future.
“It takes a lot of dedication and discipline to go through the rigor of academic research requirements, and awards like these really give a boost and recognition to trainees as they go through the trials and tribulations,” he said.
“Our young researchers are making important contributions to the mental health care landscape that will contribute to helping people suffering from depression get better, faster.”
Congratulations to our 2018 award recipients - Michael Iro, Emma Lynn and Patricia Burhunduli.