Travelling across the world to help young people through research

16 August 2023
Researcher Spotlight: Jillian Halladay
In this edition of Matilda’s Researcher Spotlight, we sit down with Dr Jillian Halladay to learn more about her research, how she ended up in Australia, and how she became interested in helping young people through research.
Dr Jillian Halliday

Full Name: Jillian Halladay

Position at the Matilda Centre: Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Banting Postdoctoral Fellow / Affiliate of the Matilda Centre

What is your background and how did you come to join the Matilda Centre?

I am a Canadian Registered Nurse, Clinical Epidemiologist, and current Postdoctoral Fellow at the Matilda Centre. I focus mainly on co-occurring substance use and mental health problems among youth 10-25 years of age.

As a nurse, I have worked in different youth mental health and substance use settings and have helped create programs for young people in this area. As a researcher, I aim to deepen our understanding of the factors driving co-occurring substance use and mental health problems among youth while identifying and creating programs to prevent and treat these problems. 

While completing my PhD in Health Research Methodology at McMaster University in Canada, I attended a talk by Professor Maree Teesson at a conference. I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the work being done at the Matilda Centre, and it felt like a perfect fit for my research interests.

My interests in youth mental health and substance use epidemiology particularly fit with the Matilda Centre Professor Tim Slade’s work, so I reached out indicating my interest in coming (across the world!) to work with him and the Matilda team. I then received a competitive Canadian Institutes of Health Research Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, which has provided the funding for my work with the Matilda Centre. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with and learn from all the brilliant researchers at the Centre. 

How did you become interested in co-occurring substance use and mental health problems, particularly among young people?

Early in my nursing and academic journey, I helped create and evaluate a brief motivational intervention for post-secondary student alcohol and cannabis use. The intervention was called “Pause” and was framed as “a way to take a pause from your life to think about how substance use may be impacting your life and how your substance use and mental health may be related.” Many students shared how their substance use was interconnected with their mental health, sparking my interest in studying co-occurring problems.

At the time, I was also working as a nurse on an inpatient child and youth mental health unit. I started noticing the high prevalence and impact of substance use among youth coming to the hospital. These observations coincided with national discussions of upcoming legalisation of cannabis in Canada. These clinical experiences and national conversations motivated me to delve deeper into studying co-occurring substance use and mental health problems among youth. 

Can you tell us about the trends project that you are working on?

We have been seeing adolescent emotional problems (like depression and anxiety) steeply increasing over the past two decades. At the same time, substance use has largely been declining or plateauing. It is unclear why these two concerns are moving in different directions when they often occur together.

With Matilda Centre colleagues, we are trying to understand what has been happening to trends in co-occurring substance use and emotional problems over time. We are exploring these trends using samples of youth in Canada and Australia. We have also developed a data- and youth-driven theoretical framework (the InterSECT Framework) that explores three core hypotheses:

  1. strengthening of co-occurrence or the “hardening” hypothesis, 
  2. co-occurrence staying the same or the “consistency” hypothesis, and 
  3. weakening of co-occurrence or the “decoupling” hypothesis. 

We hope our work improves our ability to think about, evaluate, and understand changes in co-occurrence over time, which will impact how we approach prevention efforts moving forward.  

What do you like most about working at the Matilda Centre – how is it different to other places you’ve worked?

Jillian Halliday

There are many synergies between my research interests and the work of the Matilda Centre. Nearly all the work being done across the Centre directly relates back to my research interests and goals.

It has been such a great experience to be surrounded by like-minded people and to be able to work with and learn from the global leaders (and rising stars) across this area of research. 

I am quite lucky to have had many extremely supportive, kind, and brilliant mentors across my nursing and academic journey so far.

Given my (lucky) track record of great mentorship and learning environments, having a similarly supportive environment for my postdoctoral fellowship was very important to me - especially when deciding to move to the other side of the world! 

My core mentors at the Matilda Centre, Professor Tim Slade and Associate Professor Matt Sunderland, have truly exceeded my expectations for creating such a welcoming, fun, and supportive environment to learn and work. The Director of the Centre, Professor Maree Teesson, is also filled with so much energy, inspiration, and positivity and makes time to genuinely get to know everyone across the Centre.

What feels most unique about the Matilda Centre is the centre-wide culture of encouraging and celebrating taking time outside of work for family, fun, and self-care. The Matilda Centre has figured out the “secret sauce” to balancing kindness, collaboration, and work-life balance with rigorous, productive, and highly impactful research. I have really enjoyed my time at the Matilda Centre thus far and look forward to what’s to come. 

What is something most people wouldn't know about you?

Exercise and sports have always played a big part in my life (despite being unable to kick, hit, or catch a ball). In elementary school, I was a competitive gymnast. In secondary school, I was on a competitive cheerleading team that won several national championships. During post-secondary school, I competed and won a bodybuilding competition. While life and injuries have changed the way I exercise, it remains a really important part of my life for both fun and self-care.

What is your all-time favourite quote?

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” - Steve Jobs 

Where can people find more information about you and your work?

They can check out my website! It has all my background and research projects.