Vote For Mental Health Research That Resonates With You

CAMH has narrowed down its search for researchers who’ve been shortlisted to win $10,000 at the 3rd Annual Breakthrough Challenge. This year’s finalists are bringing issues like anorexia, sustainable healthcare and illness awareness to the conversation. We spoke with Yuliya Knyahnytska, Claire de Oliveira and Philip Gerretsen about their research.

Yuliya Knyahnytska is working on a trial with patients who have severe treatment-resistant anorexia. She is using brain stimulation to see if they can help with the obsessive compulsive elements that are so debilitating in eating disorders.

SDTC: What was the most surprising thing you uncovered in your research?

Yuliya: Resilience. Patients with ten, twenty and twenty-five years of the most debilitating conditions, both physically and psychologically, demonstrate marked resilience and a strong desire to get better, and to live fulfilling lives. They don’t engage in anorexia behaviors to get “control,” or as a matter of personal preference or will. They demonstrate significant labour behind their anorexia, which is both disturbing and fascinating. It is disturbing out of the realization of how much time and effort goes into dealing with anorexia. It is fascinating that people continue to struggle with it, but also continue to look for options; they never give up. Neither should we, as clinicians, and society in general.

How is your research benefiting individuals/society?

An educated woman in her early forties, unemployed for the past five-seven years, lives with severe anorexia nervosa. She devotes at least eight hours each day to her obsessions and compulsions around weight, shape, and calorie intake. She is confined to her home and lives with her elderly parents. Following a twelve-week course of the treatment our research piloted, she has started to volunteer, is working part-time, and is even going out with friends to restaurants! She is interested in dating now. Her anorexia nervosa is still severe, but less time is spent and it is more manageable for her.

How would you like to expand your research in the next few years?

– Offer to more people!
– Change a protocol making it more accessible (it requires a lot of commitment now)
– Include other types of eating disorders
– Determine biomarkers for responders and non-responders
– Different protocols for different sub-types: what is working and what is not working

Claire de Oliveira’s research looks at high-cost patients of the healthcare system, and makes recommendations on how to improve care and reduce the cost of frequent users.

SDTC: What was the most surprising thing you uncovered in your research?

Claire: The most surprising finding of our research was that among high-cost patients (those that cost the Ontario health care system the most), patients with mental health and addiction-related care incurred more than 30% more costs than other patients. This means that high-cost patients with mental health and addiction-related care are quite different from other high-cost patients.

How is your research benefiting individuals/society?

This research will help improve the health care system for patients with mental illness and addictions. It will help make the health care system more efficient. This means that patients will be able to receive the care they need when they need it the most.

How would you like to expand your research in the next few years?

We looked at high-cost patients with mental illness and addictions for one year only. In the future, I would like to follow these patients over time to better understand their trajectories of care. The more information we have on these patients, the better will be our understanding of their needs and the ways to improve their health.

Philip Gerretsen focuses on illness awareness, studying the brain to understand how the different areas of the brain relate to patients’ understanding of their illness, with a primary focus on schizophrenia.

SDTC: What was the most surprising thing you uncovered in your research?

Phillip: Anosognosia, or not knowing that one is sick or ill, affects multiple illnesses, including dementia, schizophrenia, cancer and other common medical problems like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and addictions. Anosognosia can be devastating for patients, loved ones and their families, as it leads to poor treatment compliance and negative clinical outcomes. Our group found that impaired illness awareness involves the same brain circuits in schizophrenia as it does in other conditions where there is clear evidence of brain damage, such as stroke.

How is your research benefiting individuals/society?

We have preliminary research results suggesting that safe, non-invasive brain stimulation techniques like vestibular stimulation and transcranial direct current (TDCS) can temporarily affect the brain circuits involved in anosognosia and improve illness awareness in schizophrenia. Improving illness awareness will lead to better treatment adherence and better outcomes for patients, families and society.

How would you like to expand your research in the next few years?

This research is actively being extended to other conditions that can feature ansognosia or impaired illness awareness, including gambling, obesity, and diabetes. We aim to see if impaired illness awareness in these conditions involves the same brain circuits. And also if the same, safe brain stimulation techniques can lead to sustained improvement in illness awareness if given over the course of a few weeks.

You’re invited to vote online for the research that most resonates with you. After a live debate on November 9th at 2nd Floor Events in Toronto, you can vote for the winner after the finalists present their research in a TEDx style debate.

Online voting closes on November 7th. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit here.


  1. Claire de Oliveira
    November 7, 2016

    Read more about my work on and vote!

  2. November 8, 2016

    So informative! Thanks for taking the time to write about such an important cause.

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