Investigating Early-Life Causes and Experiences of Common Mental Illnesses
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world and is linked with many poor health outcomes, including suicidal behaviour. Yet despite considerable research, the underlying causes are not well understood.
Dr. Ian Colman, Canada Research Chair in Mental Health Epidemiology, is investigating modifiable causes of depression and suicidality in three vulnerable populations: children and adolescents, military personnel, and prisoners.
In partnership with local and national agencies as well as researchers from several countries, he and his research team are studying population-wide health data for clues. This includes mental health assessments of thousands of Canadian children who were followed by Statistics Canada from 1994 to 2009; all members of the armed forces; and all Canadian prisoners sentenced for two years or more.
Colman aims to better understand how factors that have been shown to increase the risk for depression and suicidal behaviour relate to each other. For example, childhood adversity, parental mental illness, substance abuse, low levels of social support, and recent stressful events are all associated with depression—but it is not clear how they relate to each other or which would best respond to intervention.
Using advanced statistical methods, Colman and his team are also estimating the potential effects of prevention and intervention programs in reducing depression and suicidal behaviour. This approach will enable them to produce research that could influence policy and practice at the local, national and international levels. Ultimately, it could lead to better outcomes for people who are at risk of or experience depression.