At a time when stress, anxiety and depression have become part of people’s everyday vocabulary, research on mental health remains ever so important. At UBC, graduate students from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds are conducting research with real world implications—from examining Indigenous youth mental health in the context of foster care, exploring how service providers understand and respond to incidents of violence against women, and investigating the impact of the current socio-technological context on adolescents' mental health and well-being.
These scholars use a variety of approaches, including basic, clinical, social, and population-level research to better understand how genes, the environment and social interactions influence mental health. The work conducted by our graduate students throughout their degrees has the potential to impact how we the conversations we have around mental health and how we as a community and society respond to and address mental health issues.
Cheryl inkster: Improving indigenous access to mental health care
Doctoral student in Counselling Psychology Cheryl Inkster is conducting a community-based study exploring the meaning of culture for Métis youth in foster care, and how this impacts their health and well-being. As a former youth worker, Cheryl helped Indigenous youth who were relocated from Northern Canadian communities and placed in foster care in Southern Canadian communities. Part of her job was to help connect them to cultural resources.
“These resources were meant to help improve their health and well-being as they adapted to living in the Lower Mainland but it was hard to find locally relevant cultural resources and connections for them,” she said. And as a Métis woman, Cheryl could relate to this experience.
“I can trace my lineage back to the historical Red River Settlement along the Assiniboine and Red Rivers in Manitoba. My father relocated to BC as a young man and I was born and raised in BCs Lower Mainland. Due to this, I was distanced from my Métis relatives and culture, so I have had my own experiences as a young adult of connecting with Métis culture and I have experienced the impact of it on my own health and wellness.”
With this research, she hopes to address the many gaps in the existing health and wellbeing research, specifically related to health programming, mental health and social determinants of health. “Broadly, I hope [this research] will support the health, well-being, and resilience of Métis youth in foster care. I believe that traditional Indigenous healing, traditional tools can aid in health and well-being, as they have shown success in treating various mental health complaints.”
It is her hope that this work will highlight the need for the government to provide more funding to foster these meaningful cultural connections for Indigenous youth in care, as it has such an important impact on their health and wellbeing.
keith dormond: Understanding Honour Related Violence and Oppression
As a police officer and former social worker, PSI scholar Keith Dormond noticed the many challenges faced by service providers, such as police officers, social workers, shelter workers, people in the mental health field when dealing with cases of honour-related violence.
“When these cases happen, popular media often focus on the racial background of the offenders and perpetrators,” he said. Drawing on his experiences as Jamaican Canadian, Keith saw the similarities between the ways black communities are portrayed in the media and how some people talked about cases of honour-related violence in terms of culture and race.
He wanted to understand better these narratives and challenged them, so he decided to focus his doctoral research on this. He interviewed 23 service providers throughout Canada, mostly in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario—some were focused on mental health, shelters, police or law enforcement, settlement workers, and educators.
“My research looks at a combination of different types of groups, including police officer, like myself. Most research on honour-related violence focuses on government reports and government policies. This research does not get to the nuts and bolts of the practice. For example, how can service providers understand the issue? How can they deal with this issue? My work focuses on that,” he said.
According to Keith, cases of honour-related violence are very complex—they involve issues of race, religion, culture, and they can also be very high risk for violence. Many service providers experience stress managing these issues, and in some instances, they can experience vicarious trauma from repeatedly being exposed to the oppressive and violent stories of their clients.
“My research can help service providers work in collaborative relationships, so they are not in this alone. This way, they are able to support one another and learn about and deal with cases of honour-related violence in ways that do not reinforce orientalism, racism, and so forth.”
Rodney Stehr: Sexual and Mental Health Post-Migration Pathways of 2SLGBTQ+ Youth
Rodney Stehr is a Masters of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies student. They are using digital diaries to get a better understanding of how queer youth in B.C. are navigating the overlapping public health crises of COVID-19 and the overdose crisis.
“I’m hoping to get a better sense of this because, oftentimes, the day to day lives of queer youth are overlooked or not considered significant …. youth and queer folks navigate a system that often places us in positions where our health is compromised because of criminalization, discrimination .… so it would be helpful to get a better representation of how we are being impacted,” they said.
Rodney’s research is addressing the limited data available on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the health and substance use of queer youth. Although the data is still emerging, they believe there is still a lot that needs to be addressed.
They were inspired to take on this research due to their own experiences. “I think it's a reflection of my experience, and just thinking about what a lot of my friends are going through, and just the community in general,” Rodney said.
Health disparities for queer youth already existed prior to the pandemic and Rodney hopes his research will help shine a light on how these experiences have either changed or worsened.
“I hope my research informs the ways in which a lot of service providers like clinicians, nonprofit leaders, youth program coordinators, and policymakers think about the day to day lives of queer youth navigating these two overlapping public health crises. And as a result, they're able to kind of tailor how they think about what programming could look like to better meet mental health needs.”
Sara Press: rethinking of Anglo-colonial constructions of health and illness
Sara Press, PhD Candidate in English Literature and Science and Technology Studies at UBC, is re-thinking Anglo-colonial constructions of health and illness in North America. In her research, Press focuses on how ideals of whiteness have historically been aligned with health and citizenship in Canada and the United States. She argues that these norms inform medical standards, and impact how physicians treat their patients.
Press is researching the Standardized Patient Program in medical schools, examining the institutionalization of patient stereotypes, and their accompanying metrics of credibility. She is looking at these issues from a rhetorical angle, considering how a person's positionality impacts their credibility and their persuasive capacity. She believes that this research is more important now than ever.
“Especially now, in COVID-19, there's been so much more attention on all of these health inequalities. And the most egregious is the lack of equal access to basic health care, even in Canada. I think it's really important to elevate those stories of inequity, to start more conversations, and make actionable change,” she said.
Press hopes her research allows people to think more critically about what constitutes health in the first place, and why we deem certain kinds of people healthy and others unhealthy. Race, gender, sexuality, age, class, and physical ability are all important factors to consider.
She is addressing her passion for this issue in her research, but also in her teachings and learnings. She writes pieces about everyday aspects of health for Columbia University’s online Health Humanities journal, Synapsis. In addition to this, she is teaching The Rhetoric of Science, Medicine and Technology (ENGL 309) at UBC.
“I’m very passionate about this research, and hope that these issues continue to be addressed, even after our conversations move on from the current pandemic,” said Press.