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UM mental health program for older adults plans for national expansion

Dr. Kristin Reynolds honoured with CIHR Institute of Aging Prize

September 11, 2023 — 

Since the end of the COVID-19 global health emergency, social isolation, loneliness and associated mental health challenges have persisted in Canada, especially among older adults.

Dr. Kristin Reynolds, director of the UM Health Information Exchange Lab, has been recognized with a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Aging Prize for her work to expand and evaluate a program that serves older adults.

The CONNECT Program was developed and launched in Manitoba in 2020 by Reynolds in collaboration with A&O: Support Services for Older Adults, as well as faculty and students from the UM departments of psychology, clinical health psychology and community health sciences, and Brandon University.

With the CONNECT Program, Reynolds seeks to support adults aged 65 and older who are experiencing loneliness and symptoms of anxiety and depression. CONNECT is an accessible, evidence-based group psychotherapy program offered by telephone. Reynolds will use the new CIHR support to add a virtual arm to the program and expand the network of service delivery partners nationally, to include organizations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia.

Reynolds is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology, with an adjunct appointment in psychiatry in the Max Rady College of Medicine. She is also a research affiliate with the Centre on Aging and a research scientist with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba. She was a 2022 recipient of the Terry G. Falconer Memorial Rh Emerging Researcher Award.

“I’m a Winnipegger, and I am grateful to have completed all of my training here at the University of Manitoba, from my bachelor of arts with honours in psychology to my MA and PhD, including my predoctoral residency, which I completed in the UM department of clinical health psychology,” says Reynolds.

“Throughout my graduate studies, specializing in aging and mental health, I came to understand how common mental health problems can be among older adults, the aversive relationship between loneliness and mental health, as well as the consequences of untreated mental health problems.

“I gained a deep appreciation for the importance of community initiatives and organizations in supporting mental health. In order to meet the mental health-related needs of Manitobans, integration of mental health services, including psychological supports, into the community is essential.”

The Health Information Exchange Lab includes undergraduate and graduate students in psychology and related disciplines. The lab aims to understand the unique health-related needs of key population groups and engages groups in the development and evaluation of resources and services to meet their unique needs.

Findings of Reynolds’ work highlight that the rate of mental health service use among older adults remains low, despite how common these issues have become. The team seeks to identify barriers to service use and co-develop resources to overcome them.

“To develop and deliver the CONNECT Program, we partnered with A&O: Support Services for Older Adults, which already offers a helpful telephone-based program for Manitobans called Senior Centre Without Walls,” says Reynolds.

“We’re hearing that the ease of access and the degree of anonymity offered by the telephone-based format of the CONNECT Program are important factors in reducing barriers to participation. There is a gap in this type of service offering across Canada, so the potential impact of expanding the program is significant.”

Reynolds’ lab, in collaboration with faculty in the UM department of clinical health psychology, has also developed an online, self-directed cognitive behavioural therapy program for pregnant and postpartum people called Overcoming Perinatal Anxiety. Both programs are grounded in the needs of the specific populations, including the psychological strategies that are most effective in addressing these challenges and the key barriers of service engagement to overcome.

“I congratulate Dr. Reynolds and the Health Information Exchange Lab team for achieving national recognition and support with this CIHR special prize,” says UM Vice-President (Research and International) Dr. Mario Pinto. “Dr. Reynolds’ rigorous approach has allowed the CONNECT Program to address the paramount concern of mental health among our aging population here in Manitoba, and now across Canada as well.”

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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