Gordon Asmundson was awarded $400,000 in funding as part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research Funding Opportunity (Photo by University Advancement and Communications)
1 As of April 29, the World Health Organization reported that there were 3,024,059 confirmed cases of the novel coronaviurs worldwide. At that time, they also confirmed 208,112 deaths. And the numbers continue to climb.
COVID-19 is a stark example of how, during pandemics, psychological factors play a significant role in the spread and containment of infection (e.g., adhering to social distancing guidelines) and in societally disruptive behaviour (e.g., infection-related discrimination, excessive fear and worry, overuse of healthcare resources).
“This means that psychological factors have important public health significance,” says Gordon Asmundson, a University of Regina professor in the Department of Psychology. Asmundson was awarded a $399,700 federal grant for his study, COVID-19: The Role of Psychological Factors in the Spreading of Disease, Discrimination, and Distress.
The funding was part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research Funding Opportunity.
“This funding is critical to better understanding the common psychological responses to COVID-19 and the new reality it has imposed on our daily lives. Importantly, it will help Canadians and others be better prepared if and when we are faced with a future coronavirus outbreak,” says Asmundson.
Asmundson, who is also a registered doctoral psychologist, a Royal Society of Canada Fellow, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Anxiety Disorders and Clinical Psychology Review, is a researcher with a focus on health anxiety.
Dr. Steven Taylor, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and author of The Psychology of Pandemics, is the co-principal investigator of this project.
The focus of this federally funded project is a series of three studies, with the end goal of developing a rapid assessment system, delivered through an online platform, which can be used to assess, for any pandemic or major epidemic, infection-related excessive behaviours, anxiety and xenophobia, and risk factors for these problems.
Asmundson and his collaborators will use results from nationally representative data, collected in Canada and the United States, to conduct three studies with a specific focus on COVID-19.
The goal of Study One is to develop and validate ways to measure COVID-19-related anxiety and xenophobia, as well as related behaviours, such as adherence to hygiene and social distancing recommendations.
"Study Two will use the measures developed in Study One to identify factors that predict COVID-19-related anxieties and fears, which will then inform the development of preventative and intervention strategies for these fears and anxieties,” says Asmundson.
Based on those findings, Asmundson says that for Study Three his team will design and evaluate an online public health assessment and information platform.
“The platform will aim to help people develop ways of coping to aid in their ability to maintain mental and physical health, while also helping reduce the spread of infectious outbreaks."
The platform will then be expanded to monitor the psychological impact of public health emergencies, identify people in need of psychological services, and implement interventions for reducing infection-related xenophobia and excessive anxiety.
“Since things are moving fast, and since we have multiple time points for data collection, our results will come in stages,” says Asmundson, who adds that his small team is working around the clock on the project.
The researchers began collecting data on Friday, March 20, and Asmundson says the inflow of data they received was unprecedented in such a short time.
“We collected data until April 1, which resulted in 6,868 complete responses from Canada and the United States.”
Asmundson says they are now analyzing data from the first wave of respondents and expect initial findings soon.
“On May 1, we will contact those respondents again to assess any changes in their responses, and will do so again two months after that.”
The team has also launched a website, coronaphobia.org, which they will update as the study continues.
A University research team led by Bonnie Jeffery, a professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Regina’s Prince Albert Campus, received a $3 million grant from Employment and Social Development Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors Program. The money will fund a five-year research project to improve the lives of older adults living with dementia in small cities and rural communities in Saskatchewan.
Entitled Interventions to Enhance Social Inclusion of Older Adults with Dementia in Saskatchewan, the project is being conducted through the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit (SPHERU). SPHERU is a research centre based at both the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan that has established itself as a leader in cutting-edge population health research looking at the what and the why of health inequities – and how to address these inequities.
“Services and interventions for older adults with dementia tend to be concentrated in larger urban centres, and those who live in smaller and rural communities have much fewer supports,” says Jeffery. “Saskatchewan, with its widespread rural population, is an ideal place to explore what interventions can best enhance the quality of life for those people with dementia who live in those smaller communities and rural areas.”
Jeffery adds that limited finances, education, public transportation, and geographic distance can compound the unique barriers older adults face as they attempt to access dementia care in small cities or rural communities.
“Approximately one third of Saskatchewan’s one million residents live in rural communities, and more than 19,000 people are affected by dementia, with an estimated 60 per cent living in their own homes,” Jeffery says.
With a focus on supporting greater social inclusion, the research team will collaborate with the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan and other provincial organizations to examine individual, community, and organizational supports and initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people with dementia, as well as their care partners.
“The lack of dementia knowledge and awareness perpetuates stigma and stereotypes of people living with dementia and their care partners,” says Joanne Bracken, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan. “We know from research that after finding a cure, eliminating stigma is the next biggest concern for people with dementia. We believe this project has the potential to address this issue in a meaningful way.”
Jeffery says the team will focus on improving public awareness of the stigma and social isolation experienced by people with dementia, while also working to improve social inclusion.
The researchers will also look at increasing and improving the availability and appropriateness of family and community supports for people living with dementia and their care partners.
3 In Canada, deaths by suicide among Indigenous people are three times higher than for non-Indigenous people. Across the country, many First Nations communities have been forced to declare states of emergency as deaths by suicide in these communities reach crisis levels. And while depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions in Canada, Indigenous people suffer from these debilitating conditions in greater numbers and severity.
While non-Indigenous Canadians can struggle to access timely and effective mental health treatment, there’s an even greater gap in availability and access to treatment designed specifically for Indigenous people. Indigenous youth, in particular, are lacking treatment options that are culturally sensitive and appropriate.
Thanks to a federal grant, a promising new program will help to address the scarcity of services.
Shadi Beshai, associate professor of psychology, recently received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant worth $165,000 for his research project, Adapting a Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Depression and Anxiety Symptoms for Use with Indigenous University Students.
“Indigenous people in Canada still experience major mental health disparities and lack of appropriate, culturally sensitive treatment options,” says Beshai. “There is extra urgency to develop mental health interventions that are geared toward Indigenous youth, as this group faces several unique societal challenges, including increased systemic discrimination, lack of Indigenous-focused cultural education, and higher drop-out rates from post-secondary institutions.”
Beshai explains that most current mental health interventions are based on Judeo-Christian principles that aren’t necessarily appropriate for the needs of Indigenous youth.
“This cultural mismatch between the treatment and the patient is often perceived as insensitive or inappropriate, which leads people of different cultures to either never consider using these treatments, or quit soon after they start.”
Beshai’s research team includes Brenda Green, an associate professor of Indigenous Health Studies at First Nations University of Canada and an expert in Indigenous health and Indigenous research methods. Beshai and Green are collaborating with Elder Betty McKenna, who is the Elder in Residence at the Regina Public School Board and who also provides guidance on appropriate research and mental health practices with Indigenous peoples and families. Misty Longman, director of the University of Regina’s ta-tawâw Student Centre, is another project partner.
Beshai is excited to get started, saying, “This project is a natural continuation of my research in the areas of mindfulness and cross-cultural adaptation of psychological interventions.”
Green explains that there will be three main objectives to this project.
“We are developing a flexible, culturally sensitive manual for a mindfulness-based intervention to manage depression and anxiety symptoms among Indigenous university students,” says Green. “We will then pilot how effective this intervention is in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety among them, then we will develop a model for adapting existing interventions to make them sensitive to the needs of Indigenous peoples in Canada.”
“I’m hopeful that this work will increase Indigenous youth engagement in effective treatments for depression and anxiety,” adds Beshai.
4 Dying with Dignity Canada is a national charity that advocates for improving the quality of dying, protecting end-of-life rights, and helping Canadians avoid unwanted suffering. Recently, Dying with Dignity staff have reported that many of their clients ended their lives earlier than they would have otherwise chosen because of issues with current Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation.
Fletcher is leading a team that includes University of Regina Instructor III Janine Brown, and researchers from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Calgary.
“We conducted interviews with 13 people, including family members and loved ones of individuals who made the decision to end their life earlier than they would have liked. We also spoke with people who have incurable health conditions and are worried about having to make the decision to end their lives early because of current MAID legislation. We wanted to better understand these stories, what worked during that time, what needs improving upon, and, ultimately, what changes they would like made to MAID legislation.”
Fletcher says they have finished data collection and hope to have results from their analysis by the summer.
5 The Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) is a provincial funding agency that funds, supports, and promotes the impact of health research that matters to Saskatchewan. This year, SHRF has contributed to many University of Regina scholars’ research programs.
Their Collaborative Innovation Development Grants fund creative, novel, and innovative collaborative research, strengthening future funding applications by providing seed funding for ideas that are supported by a sound rationale and a feasible plan, but not necessarily preliminary data.
Testing people for cannabis impairment is difficult. The main objective of biology professors Nicole Hansmeier and Tzu-Chiao Chao’s $39,084 SHRF-funded project will improve the ability to assess cannabis-related impairment, as well as its effects on people depending on how they consume it – such as orally, inhaled, or via aerosols, etc. This research is also funded by the Saskatchewan Lung Association.
Biology associate professor Josef Buttigieg received a $50,000 SHRF grant to target cells that cause multiple sclerosis while leaving the rest of the immune system healthy.
Mohan Babu, associate professor from the Faculty of Science, received a $50,000 SHRF grant to tackle health challenges in Saskatchewan that focus on inherited metabolic disorders in infants.
SHRF Sprout Grants cultivate patient-oriented research teams in Saskatchewan and furthers the work of the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR) to build capacity and collaborations to conduct responsive, equitable, innovative, and patient-oriented research.
Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, Research Chair in Aging and Health and psychology professor at the University of Regina, recently received a $179,996 Sprout Grant, split equally between SHRF and the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR).
Hadjistavropoulos and his team will use this funding to take his #SeePainMoreClearly campaign to the next level by creating new content, expanding what is now restricted to Twitter onto other platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, and more systematically evaluating the impact of the campaign.
The team will also target health professionals and stakeholders in a more focused way. Ultimately, they are aiming for a much greater global reach than they have achieved thus far.
Their work is expected to lead to improved quality of life for patients and families, continuing education for health professionals, cost savings through the earlier detection of pain-related problems, and facilitation of policies for improved pain management in long-term care. Finally, using the research findings, the team will propose a comprehensive framework and guidelines for using social media for the delivery of health information.