Ongoing Projects

The effect of parenting practices during childhood on adolescent mental health and suicidality

Depression and suicidal thought are common among youth. Many potentially modifiable factors have been proposed as risk factors for adolescent depression and suicidal thought, including poor parenting practices in childhood. However, parenting practices are linked to numerous other factors that predict poor adolescent mental health, such as poverty, stressful life events, and family breakdown. Advanced statistical methods can allow epidemiologists to account for complex relationships between factors and identify which relationships are causal in nature. The proposed research will use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) to 1) identify whether parenting practices in childhood can cause adolescent depression and suicidal thought; 2) identify whether increasing positive parenting or decreasing negative parenting would have a bigger effect on adolescent depression and suicidal thought; and, 3) identify whether there are specific times during childhood when intervention is most effective.

This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Predictors and consequences of trajectories of mental illness among prisoners

Rates of mental illness are high among incarcerated populations. This project will investigate rates of change in mental health problems over the first year of incarceration among prisoners serving sentences of two years or longer. The project has three specific aims:

  • Explore factors and events that occur during imprisonment that may lead to either improved or deteriorating mental health
  • Consider individual characteristics and experiences prior to incarceration to identify sub-groups of prisoners who may be vulnerable to mental health issues
  • Look at the relationship between mental health and engaging in institutional incidents such as rule breaking, assaulting other inmates or staff and self-injurious and suicidal behaviour.

This research will lead to an increased understanding of factors that contribute to positive and negative mental health, and inform strategies to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of mental illness among prison populations.

This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The Burden of Depression on Mortality Over Six Decades

Major depression affects about 5% of the Canadian population in any year, and costs the Canadian economy more than $14 billion each year. Previous research of depression and mortality has been based on fairly short follow-up periods. This project will investigate the association between depression and death over six decades using data from the Stirling County Study. The Stirling County Study is one of the longest running studies of psychiatric disorders that dates back to the early 1950s and consists of three successive samples. This project has three specific aims:

  • investigate premature death associated with depression
  • to determine which types of depression are most strongly associated with mortality
  • to investigate the role of other risk factors for disease in the association between depression and mortality

This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Pathways From Early Childhood Behaviour and Development to Adolescent Depression

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world and is estimated to affect 8-20% of adolescents before the age of 18. Depression is a devastating disorder which compromises daily functioning in young people who develop it, and is associated with a decrease in quality of life.

The primary objective of this project is to test explanatory models of child and adolescent depression, by evaluating the direct and indirect effects of major potential causal factors over time. Data from an ongoing population-based survey run by Statistics Canada will be used to identify major pathways from birth through to child and adolescent depression. The research program will:

  • compare the effect of early-life risk factors on child-onset versus adolescent-onset depressive symptoms
  • understand the temporal relationship and the influence of co-occurring stressful factors between cognitive ability/conduct problems and depressive symptoms
  • identify common pathways among these variables that lead to depression, and subsequently increase the likelihood of substance abuse and suicidal behaviour.

The first study from this project showed that children whose mothers were depressed during the pre-school years were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety themselves during adolescence, while children whose mothers were depressed at other stages of development were comparable to children whose mothers were never depressed. This paper, entitled “Timing of First Exposure to Maternal Depression and Adolescent Emotional Disorder in a National Canadian Cohort“, was published in PLoS ONE.

This project is funded by the SickKids Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Mental Health Among Members of the Canadian Armed Forces


Mental health of service members is a priority for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) due to the likelihood of exposure to extreme stress that is inherent to military operations, and the fact that the burden of mental illness could jeopardize operational success. Suicides in the military have received considerable recent public attention. Suicide rates in the military are lower than in the general population,which is to be expected given that military personnel are significantly healthier than others. Nevertheless, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadian military personnel.

In partnership with the Department of National Defence, the APEAL Lab is embarking on a research program to understand the burden of mental illness in the Canadian Armed Forces. Several projects using CCHS 2002 and 2013 data are planned, including investigating mental health-related stigma in the armed forces compared to the general population, how combat exposure interacts with other factors to increase risk for mental illness, and the prognosis of mental illness in military personnel. In addition, three APEAL research trainees are using CAF data to investigate predictors of suicidal thought, how childhood trauma interacts with operational stress, and post-deployment mental health care utilization.


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