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A family connection

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Rebecca Rodrigues was just 11 years old when her older brother, then 16, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Living in Guelph, Ontario, Rodrigues recalls the struggles her brother and family faced trying to navigate the situation and assist him in receiving the care he needed.

Since the early 1990’s, when her brother was first diagnosed, Rodrigues says the mental health system has come a long way, but insists there is more work to be completed to help those affected by mental illness.

Driven by her personal interest in mental illness and experiences working at a medical communications company, Rodrigues decided she wanted to use her research background to contribute to the field of mental health.

Now, an MSc Candidate in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Rodrigues is studying the involuntary hospitalization of people with first-episode psychosis. Aiming to better understand the factors associated with involuntary hospitalization and which groups are at greater risk, Rodrigues is analyzing data pulled from hospitals across Ontario and is focusing on those between the ages of 16 and 35.

With early interventions serving as the best course of treatment for those with mental disorders, it is crucial that young people affected by mental disorders obtain the help they need so that they can have better long-term outcomes.

Long waiting lists for treatment and a lack of specialized services for those with mental disorders isn’t always the reason their needs go unattended to. Negative interactions with the health care system, like involuntary hospitalizations, can pose as a barrier and deter people from seeking out mental health services or treatment.  

In the context of the Ontario mental health care system, the effects of involuntary hospitalization are largely unknown, as it is a question that has not been widely explored.

Rodrigues’ goal is to identify how sociodemographic variables such as social support, living situations, involvement of care givers and clinical and behavioural factors relate to one another, and the role they play in involuntary hospitalization of young people experiencing psychosis for the first time.

“If we can identify groups that are at high risk for involuntary hospitalization, that may allow for the implementation of strategies to improve pathways to care for people with psychosis early in the course of their illness,” said Rodrigues.

Through her research, Rodrigues would like to influence the development of policy around mental illness and inform the practise of physicians.

“It’s disheartening to see the gaps in care that exist within mental health, but through research we can start calling attention to them and using this new information to bridge the gaps and be a part of the solution in some way,” she said.

With no prior background in mental health research, Rodrigues credits her supervisor, Kelly Anderson, PhD, for helping her to work through her problems and affording Rodrigues the freedom to explore themes and ideas that intrigue her.

“Your supervisor can make or break your graduate school experience, so I am really lucky in that regard to have Kelly. She helped me to publish my first epidemiology publication in mental health, which was really exciting, and also provided me with a lot of insight throughout the process,” she said.

Speaking about her collaboration with Anderson, Rodrigues said, “My hope for the work we are completing together is that the research we put out there is able to have an impact.”