U of R academics unpack the pandemic’s effects on people

Research proves to be one way the U of R can move support forward. USArmyTrainingandDoctrineCommand

Asmundson works to understand the virus while campus program supports mental health

Dr. Gordon Asmundson from the University of Regina’s Department of Psychology is conducting research that explores the impact of the recent global pandemic, a novel coronavirus called COVID-19 on the mental health of the general populace. Asmundson, a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the editor-in-chief of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy believes that understanding why human beings behave the way they do during times of pandemic is important to understanding the pandemics themselves.

“Psychological factors play a major role in the spread and containment of infection and socially disruptive behaviours … psychological factors have an important public health implication,” said Asmundson in a recent interview with 620 CKRM.

His latest project, “The Role of Psychological Factors in the Spreading of Disease, Discrimination, and Distress,” has received $400,000 in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. According to him, there are three main ways human beings respond during a time of crisis.

The first is responding appropriately, which in recent times can be seen as people taking heed to social distancing and taking hand washing and other recommended precautions seriously. The second is over-responding, which has led to ignorant acts of racism towards people from Asia as well as panic buying and the spread of various conspiracy theories. The final way is under-responding which can be seen when college students go to parties and churches hold services despite warnings of social distancing. Under-responding, however, may be the most serious way of concern to Asmundson.

In a conversation with Jonathan Guignard of Global News, he said, “If we see somebody or know somebody who is having quite significant emotional concerns around this, that is part of adapting to this process…. There’s also those under-responding, who don’t see this as a considerable threat.”

Asmundson will be collaborating with the University of British Columbia’s Dr. Steven Taylor as a co-principal investigator. To accomplish the goal of the project, the two researchers will be creating a series of planned studies that will create a rapid assessment system which will be relevant for any epidemic, pandemic, infection-related phenomena of a notable scale. Asmundson has made it known that his research team will be making use of three different studies that will directly targeted towards the coronavirus.

Asmundson’s research, however, is not the only Canadian-sponsored effort to further understanding of the nature of the coronavirus. The Government of Canada recently added 49 research projects in its efforts to tackle the growing pandemic. The additional projects will cost the Canadian government a bill of $25.8M in research. Prior to the additional 49 projects, the government had invested $27 million towards coronavirus research on Mar. 6. As of present, Canada has invested $52.6 million and set up 96 research teams nationwide to help unpack the virus.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also revealed that Canada is currently spending about $192 million to create and produce a vaccine targeted towards this pandemic.

Another researcher at the University of Regina whose work may well help students is Vanessa Peynenburg, a doctoral psychology student working with the Online Therapy unit. Peynenburg says the work of the program, which provides cognitive behavioural therapy, is even more important given the current pandemic.

“Students are experiencing a great level of uncertainty and distress surrounding the COVID-19 situation. For those who have existing mental health concerns, the current environment is likely exacerbating their symptoms. I want to ensure that students are aware of this support that is open to them during this difficult time.”

The unit has now opened a course that Penenburg says can make a significant difference in the lives of students.

“The Online Therapy Unit is now also offering a free online therapy course specifically for students. The UniWellbeing Course aims to provide free education and guidance on simple but effective techniques for managing depression and/or anxiety for post-secondary students in Saskatchewan. The Course helps students with thoughts, behaviours, and physical symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. Students who enroll in the course complete 4 lessons over the span of 5 weeks and receive weekly support from a therapist.”

For more information about the program students are asked to visit www.onlinetherapyuser.ca/uniwellbeing.

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