Featured research (9)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers (HCWs) have been exposed to highly stressful situations, including increased workloads and exposure to mortality, thus posing a risk for adverse psychological outcomes, including acute stress, moral injury, and depression or anxiety symptoms. Although several reports have sought to identify the types of coping strategies used by HCWs over the course of the pandemic (e.g., physical activity, religion/spirituality, meditation, and alcohol), it remains unclear which factors may influence HCWs’ choice of these coping strategies. Accordingly, using a qualitative approach, the purpose of the present study was to gain a deeper understanding of the factors influencing HCWs’ choice of coping strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. Fifty-one HCWs participated in virtual, semi-structured interviews between February and June 2021. Interview transcripts were analysed through an inductive thematic approach, yielding two primary themes. First, HCWs described an ongoing shift in their approach to coping depending on their mental “bandwidth”, ranging from “quick fix” to more “intentional effort” strategies to engage in proactive strategies to improve mental health. Second, many HCWs identified various barriers to desired coping strategies during the pandemic, including the preponderance of pandemic- and other circumstantial-related barriers. The findings from this study offer a unique understanding of the factors influencing HCWs’ choice of coping strategies under novel and increased stress. This knowledge will be central to developing appropriate forms of support and resources to equip HCWs throughout and after the pandemic period, and in mitigating the potential adverse mental health impacts of this period of prolonged stress and potential trauma.
Background: Systemic oppression, particularly towards sexual minorities, continues to be deeply rooted in the bedrock of many societies globally. Experiences with minority stressors (e.g. discrimination, hate-crimes, internalized homonegativity, rejection sensitivity, and microaggressions or everyday indignities) have been consistently linked to adverse mental health outcomes. Elucidating the neural adaptations associated with minority stress exposure will be critical for furthering our understanding of how sexual minorities become disproportionately affected by mental health burdens. Methods: Following PRISMA-guidelines, we systematically reviewed published neuroimaging studies that compared neural dynamics among sexual minority and heterosexual populations, aggregating information pertaining to any measurement of minority stress and relevant clinical phenomena. Results: Only 1 of 13 studies eligible for inclusion examined minority stress directly, where all other studies focused on investigating the neurobiological basis of sexual orientation. In our narrative synthesis, we highlight important themes that suggest minority stress exposure may be associated with decreased activation and functional connectivity within the default-mode network (related to the sense-of-self and social cognition), and summarize preliminary evidence related to aberrant neural dynamics within the salience network (involved in threat detection and fear processing) and the central executive network (involved in executive functioning and emotion regulation). Importantly, this parallels neural adaptations commonly observed among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of trauma and supports the inclusion of insidious forms of trauma related to minority stress within models of PTSD. Conclusions: Taken together, minority stress may have several shared neuropsychological pathways with PTSD and stress-related disorders. Here, we outline a detailed research agenda that provides an overview of literature linking sexual minority stress to PTSD and insidious trauma, moral affect (including shame and guilt), and mental health risk/resiliency, in addition to racial, ethnic, and gender related minority stress. Finally, we propose a novel minority mosaic framework designed to inform future directions of minority stress neuroimaging research from an intersectional lens.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a still-unfolding series of novel, potentially traumatic moral and ethical challenges that place many healthcare workers at risk of developing moral injury. Moral injury is a type of psychological response that may arise when one transgresses or witnesses another transgress deeply held moral values, or when one feels that an individual or institution that has a duty to provide care has failed to do so. Despite knowledge of this widespread exposure, to date, empirical data are scarce as to how to prevent and, where necessary, treat COVID-19-related moral injury in healthcare workers. Given the relation between moral injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we point here to social and interpersonal factors as critical moderators of PTSD symptomology and consider how this knowledge may translate to interventions for COVID-19-related moral injury. Specifically, we first review alterations in social cognitive functioning observed among individuals with PTSD that may give rise to interpersonal difficulties. Drawing on Nietlisbach and Maercker's 2009 work on interpersonal factors relevant to survivors of trauma with PTSD, we then review the role of perceived social support, social acknowledgment and social exclusion in relation to potential areas of targeted intervention for COVID-19-related moral injury in healthcare workers. Finally, building on existing literature (e.g., Phoenix Australia—Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and the Canadian Centre of Excellence—PTSD, 2020) we conclude with individual and organizational considerations to bolster against the development of moral injury in healthcare workers during the pandemic.
Background: Up to 50% of individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) endorse problematic alcohol use. Typically, these individuals present with more complex and often more severe PTSD symptoms than those who do not report problematic alcohol use. Emerging literature suggests that heightened symptoms of dissociation are likewise associated with greater PTSD symptom severity. Despite this knowledge, the role of dissociation in the relation between PTSD severity and alcohol-related problems has yet to be examined. Here, we explore the mediating role of dissociative symptomatology on the association between PTSD severity and alcohol-related problems within a PTSD treatment-seeking sample. Methods: Structural equation modeling was used to test the mediating role of dissociative symptomatology between PTSD severity and alcohol-related problems. Participants [N = 334; mean age (SD) = 44.29 (9.77), 50% female] were drawn from a clinical intake battery database for PTSD in-patient treatment services at Homewood Health Care, Guelph, ON, Canada. A subset of battery measures assessing PTSD severity, dissociative symptomatology, and alcohol-related problems were submitted to analysis. Results: A significant positive association emerged between PTSD severity and alcohol-related problems (β = 0.127, p < 0.05) in the absence of dissociative symptomatology. Critically, however, when added to this model, dissociative symptomatology (six unique facets of dissociation assessed by the Multiscale Dissociation Inventory) mediated the relation between PTSD severity and alcohol-related problems. Specifically, greater PTSD severity was associated with greater dissociative symptomatology (β = 0.566, p < 0.0001), which was in turn associated with greater alcohol-related problems (β = 0.184, p < 0.05). Conclusions: These results suggest that dissociative symptomatology plays a key role in explaining the relation between PTSD severity and alcohol-related problems. Future studies should examine the impact of targeting dissociative symptomatology specifically in treating individuals with PTSD who endorse alcohol-related problems.
Background Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) increase risk for negative mental health outcomes in adulthood; however, the mechanisms through which ACEs exert their influence on adult mental health are poorly understood. This is particularly true for Public Safety Personnel (PSP; e.g., police, firefighters, paramedics, etc.), a group with unique vulnerability to negative psychiatric sequalae given their chronic exposure to potentially traumatic, work-related events. Objectives To examine the role of moral injury (MI) and emotion regulation in the relation between ACEs and adult mental health symptoms in adulthood. Participants and setting Participants (N = 294) included a community sample of Canadian and American PSP members aged 22 to 65. Methods The current study uses cross-sectional data collection via retrospective self-report questionnaires administered between November, 2018 and November, 2019 to assess level of ACEs (ACE-Q), emotion regulation difficulties (DERS) and symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PCL-5), dissociation (MDI), depression, stress, and anxiety (DASS-21). Additionally, participants completed the Moral Injury Assessment for Public Safety Personnel, the first measure of MI developed specifically for PSP. Results Path analysis revealed that ACEs significantly predicted adverse mental health symptoms in adulthood; this effect was mediated by symptoms of MI and moderated by difficulties with emotion regulation. Conclusions This study is the first to identify MI as a mechanism involved in the relation between ACEs and adult psychopathology and highlights the protective role of emotion regulation skills. These findings can inform the development of future research and clinical interventions in PSP populations.

Lab head

Margaret C Mckinnon
  • Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences
About Margaret C Mckinnon
  • Homewood Chair in Mental Health and Trauma, Professor and Associate Chair, Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University; Research Lead, Mental Health and Addictions, St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton; Senior Scientist Homewood Research Institute;

Members (8)

Bethany Easterbrook
  • Defence Research and Development Canada
Andrea Brown
  • McMaster University
Krysta Andrews
  • McMaster University
Andrea M. D'Alessandro-Lowe
  • McMaster University
Sophia Roth
  • St Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton
Yarden Levy
  • McMaster University
Sarah Goegan
  • McMaster University
Sandhya Narikuzhy
  • McMaster University
Heather Millman
Heather Millman
  • Not confirmed yet

Alumni (10)

Anthony Nazarov
  • The University of Western Ontario
Jenna E Boyd
  • McMaster University
Melissa Parlar
  • York University
Carolina Oremus
  • McMaster University