Maintaining good mental health is crucial for overall well-being and quality of life. Research shows that one in eight people are battling depression and it impacts everyone differently. Feelings of sadness or feeling emotionally drained are normal, and everyone has bad days; however, those with depression can’t just simply “get over it.” It is a real illness that could lead to thoughts of self-harm, destructive behaviour, or even suicide.

Good mental health can look different for everyone, but to better help recognize what might benefit each individual, we need to better understand the various factors that come into play. Students who may be dealing with extreme stress may experience changes in their diet, sleeping habits, and exercise routines. This, coupled with facing loneliness from being away at home, contributes to their feelings of helplessness and potentially aligning with patterns of depression.

UBC has started an annual campaign, Thrive Month, focused on supporting mental health and encouraging students, faculty, and staff to talk about difficult topics like depression. Thrive is where the UBC community comes together to learn, talk, and explore ways to support our mental health - as a community. However, promoting and sustaining healthy mental health requires continuous effort and attention throughout the year.

The following UBC scholars are using their research to better understand how different factors, such as stress regulation, antidepressant medications, and prenatal exposures can affect mental health outcomes long-term. The research conducted by our graduate students emphasizes the significance of understanding the long-term implications behind the complex varying factors that influence mental health outcomes. Furthermore, their work highlights the importance of addressing disparity and ensuring equitable access to support our community. Ultimately, by acknowledging the importance of studying and addressing mental health, we foster a community that values the well-being of its members. 


Aarthi Gobinath: studying anti-depressants and pregnancy

Aarthi Gobinath is a PhD student in the Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience program at the Faculty of Medicine. Her research focuses on comparing pharmacological and non-pharmacological antidepressants in a rat model of postpartum stress. Aarthi’s research explores how different types of maternal antidepressants play a role in affecting the neurobiology of mothers and male and female offspring in adulthood.

In her research, Aarthi found that there is something different about the maternal brain that is not as responsive to antidepressants, and research suggests the effects of using antidepressants is no greater than using a placebo. However, researching other types of antidepressant interventions, such as exercise, has increased positive mood for mothers. She urges that we need to consider the takeaways from unique mothers' events, such as pregnancy and postpartum to advocate for women’s health research.

Aarthi hopes to “build upon my dissertation research which investigates the effects of postpartum antidepressant use on the maternal brain and offspring outcome and synthesize a set of policy recommendations for how we can improve the current state of mental health research, particularly for mothers." 

"We also need to respect the fact that there are unique female biological events such as pregnancy and postpartum that do affect how disease diseases present, as well as how diseases can be treated," says Aarthi.

Vivian Lam: Understanding the relationship between mental health and fetal alcohol syndrome

Vivian Lam is a PhD student in the Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience program at the Faculty of Medicine. She has dedicated her research to understanding the relationship between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and mental health outcomes. Vivian focuses on investigating the neurobiological changes that may contribute to the development of depression and anxiety levels in individuals with FASD.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person who was exposed to alcohol before birth. Effects can include physical issues such as low birth weight and body weight, and problems with behavior and learning. Often, a person with an FASD has a mix of these symptoms. Through the use of a rate model of FASD, Vivian is exploring how prenatal alcohol exposure impacts stress coping mechanisms and alters the brain regions involved in stress regulation. Vivian aims to contribute to the “development of novel, sex-specific therapeutic interventions that may mitigate the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on mental health.”

Vivian understands the importance of the “impact of one's academic work on the public, and establishing meaning beyond pure intellectual pursuit to create applied work or conversations that can more directly contribute to the public good.” She strives to create discourses that will continue to benefit the lives of individuals with FASD. Her dedication to making a difference in the world is reflected in her commitment to addressing the mental health needs of this vulnerable population. 

Envav Zusman: Antidepressants and childhood

Envav Zusman is a PhD student in the Doctor of Philosophy in Reproductive and Developmental Sciences program at the Faculty of Medicine. Her research focuses on investigating the associations between prenatal serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant exposure and long-term changes in stress regulation and mood across childhood.

“As a mother myself, I understand how distressing it can be to take medication during pregnancy not knowing whether it’s safe or not safe for a developing child,” says Enav.  Envav aims to contribute to the field of perinatal pharmacoepidemiology (the effects of drugs on pediatric or pregnant patients) by investigating the efficacy and safety of medications used during pregnancy.

She aims to understand the impact of exposure on early brain development, stress regulation, mental health and behavior in children, ultimately aiming to provide more informed decision-making support for healthcare professionals and women during pregnancy. “Depression is a serious condition that should be addressed and treated if it occurs during a pregnancy,” she says.

Zeina Waheed: Improving selection of antidepressants

Zeina Waheed is a PhD student in the Doctor of Philosophy in Population and Public Health program at the Faculty of Medicine. Her research is focused on identifying and evaluating effective implementation strategies that promote the adoption of pharmacogenomic testing for major depressive disorder treatments (MDD). MDD is a prevalent mental health condition that significantly impacts an individual’s daily life and overall well-being.

While antidepressant medication is commonly used for treatment, the selection process can be challenging due to the large range of available options and individual responses. Pharmacogenomic testing can help by identifying variants in specific genes that can affect response to a drug - leading to improved responses to medication, and reduced side effects.

She hopes “to become an impactful researcher who helps drive evidence-based decision-making that improves population health, patient outcomes, provider experience, health equity and overall healthcare system efficiency.”

Feature image by Finn on Unsplash

Wednesday, 01 November 2023