Part of our series: FMHS community members from away – The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) is made up of diverse communities, including people from across Canada and around the world. This series recognizes those from outside the province who have chosen to bring their talents and expertise to McGill University. Thank you for all that you contribute!

Gustavo Turecki, MD, PhD, Scientific Director of the Douglas Research Centre (DRC), Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University, has redoubled DRC services and his lab’s research on depression, partly because of the negative effect of COVID-19 on public mental health. 

“The last few years have shown the importance of mental disorders,” Dr. Turecki notes. “Mental health problems became more pronounced during COVID, presenting challenges for us that weren’t there before. For instance, when people experience a major depressive disorder there are changes that occur in the way they think and perceive their situation. In my lab, we are very well-positioned to make progress in better understanding how the brain changes when we are depressed, and we are making interesting contributions on that front.”  The DRC’s efforts will likely benefit from the Quebec government’s recently announced investment of $4.5 million in mental health research initiatives. 

Born in Argentina, Dr. Turecki moved with his family to Brazil in the 1980s where his journey into studying mental disorders began with medical studies, followed by a residency in psychiatry and then a master’s degree in genetics. He moved to Montreal in 1994 to complete a PhD in Neuroscience, ultimately leading to his scientific career and directorship at the DRC. 

“I think from a personal, as well as professional point of view, Montreal and McGill had really a lot to offer that provided a balance that was very appealing to me. The support from both McGill as well as CIUSSS ODIM (de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal) and the Douglas Institute have provided me with the environment to develop a research program that today is recognized internationally,” Dr. Turecki says. 

As Scientific Director at the DRC, Chair of Psychiatry at McGill, and Chief of Psychiatry at the CIUSSS ODIM, Dr. Turecki often finds himself shuttling back and forth between facilities for meetings with government officials, faculty and clinicians solving day-to-day problems or formulating strategic decisions. His favourite part of the week is, and has always been, working in the lab. “I interact with students there, think about research questions and try to find solutions. I’m also a clinician. I see patients, and that’s also a very rewarding part of my life, helping people get better.” 

Dr. Turecki says he is committed to taking the DRC and McGill Psychiatry to the next level. “Psychiatry has taken a back seat for a long time. With increased awareness about mental disorders there are increased opportunities. McGill Psychiatry is recognized internationally. One of my main goals is to take McGill one step forward and build increased capacity, and I’m working very hard on that front. For instance, we have a commitment from the government for a first phase of a new Douglas Institute and that’s one of the projects that I spend a lot of time on. We need to provide psychiatric patients in Quebec with the proper environment for treatment providing state-of-the-art mental-health care and the best innovative treatments.”