Nathan Skolski

Email: nathanskolski@okmain.cms.ok.ubc.ca


 

As many current and former tobacco users can attest — kicking the habit is easier said than done.

However, a recent study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment has identified an unintended benefit of medical cannabis use for some who also use tobacco — they’re reaching for nicotine less often.

A research team led by Dr. Philippe Lucas, CEO of I2E Research, alongside Dr. Zach Walsh, a psychology professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, analyzed self-report survey data from 2,100 medical cannabis users, 650 of whom identified as current or former tobacco consumers.

According to Drs. Lucas and Walsh, the results were impressive.

“We found that 49 per cent of current and former tobacco users report their tobacco consumption has decreased since they started using cannabis therapeutically,” says Dr. Lucas. “Additionally, 24 per cent reported zero tobacco use in the 30 days preceding the survey — these are significant reductions in the context of smoking cessation.”

Though the use of cannabis instead of more dangerous substances, like opioids, is actively being studied, Dr. Walsh says this study is one of the first focussing on cannabis as a tobacco substitution.

“It’s all about looking at these things through a public health lens, and similar to opioids, tobacco is much more dangerous than cannabis, at least from a lung health perspective” he says.

“We’ve been so focussed on understanding the risks of cannabis legalization that we sometimes forget to look at the benefits, too. We know legalization makes cannabis use more mainstream but we don’t know how that might impact how people are using it? If they’re stacking it on top of other drugs, there may not be a health benefit, but if they’re using it in lieu of more harmful substances, you start to understand why legalization makes sense from a harm reduction perspective.”

While the study results have proved promising, Dr. Walsh points out that the idea of using cannabis as a smoking cessation tool is very much in its infancy.

“There’s a lot more research to be done here, but if further studies confirm what we’ve found, I think cannabis could work for some as a transitionary smoking cessation tool in the future.”

Dr. Walsh acknowledges the concept may seem far-fetched to some, but he’s hoping these study results serve as a jumping off point to start conversations and increase research in the area.

“I think we need to work on reconceptualizing the role cannabis can play in our lives,” says Dr. Walsh. “Quitting tobacco is hard, and the consequences of not quitting are dire so I think the more options we can provide for folks, the better.”

UBC Okanagan to offer Canada’s first bachelor’s degree of Indigenous language fluency

Undergraduate degree taught in Nsyilxcn the first of many to come, degree organizers say

UBC’s Okanagan campus, located in the territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation, is set to become the first university in Canada to offer a bachelor’s degree in Indigenous language fluency.

The Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency (BNLF) program, created in collaboration with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) and the En’owkin Centre, is designed to work closely with the community to provide a comprehensive and high-quality education in Nsyilxcn—the language spoken by members of the Syilx Okanagan Nation—and to promote new, fluent speakers with a deep understanding of the language, culture, and customs.

“The idea that there’s only knowledge in English or French is absolutely not true,” says Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at UBC Okanagan and academic lead on the BNLF. “Language is identity. Indigenous knowledge systems and an Indigenous paradigm—how we view the world and how we interact—is deeply rooted in language.”

She adds that the transfer of Indigenous ideas and consciousness can only happen through the knowledge systems that are resident in the language.

“We hope to help foster a revitalization of the Nsyilxcn language in our communities and to see it spread across all domains of community life,” says Dr. Armstrong. “This is an important step in acting on Indigenous peoples’ rights to develop and transmit their languages, knowledge, and oral traditions.”

Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at UBC Okanagan.

Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, associate professor of Indigenous Studies at UBC Okanagan.

According to Dr. Armstrong, UBC Okanagan is the first in Canada and one of the first in the world to offer a degree program in an Indigenous language, something she says is a testament to UBC’s commitments to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Calls to Action.

As part of the University of British Columbia’s own response to the TRC’s Calls to Action, UBC Okanagan signed a declaration in 2019 that specifies action on five recommendations developed by its Aboriginal Advisory Committee. One of those five commitments was to develop activities that support the revitalization of Indigenous language fluency.

“To study in your language and your knowledge systems, which many English speakers take for granted, is not there for Indigenous peoples,” she says. “UBC Okanagan is at the cutting edge in making that breakthrough—it’s a powerful statement of reconciliation.”

The four-year Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency (BNLF) will see students complete the first two in a certificate and diploma program in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency from NVIT and finish the last two at UBC Okanagan in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. It will feature a mix of on campus, classroom learning and work directly with the community.

The BNLF is the product of the Indigenous Language Proficiency and Fluency Degree Framework Partnership—a collaboration between the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC), the Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association (IAHLA) and the Language Fluency Degree Consortium (LFDC). The framework is designed to create a province-wide, Indigenous language fluency degree programs that reflect and embed the culturally distinct requirements of the Indigenous community and Indigenous post-secondary institute partners.

“We congratulate En’owkin Centre and the University of British Columbia for their ground-breaking work in bringing the vision of a First Nation fluency degree to fruition,” says Dr. Verna Billy Minnabarriet, vice-president of strategic partnerships at NVIT and chair of IAHLA. “With this new degree we are creating a supportive and responsive mechanism that First Nations can use and adapt to meet their needs to produce fluent speakers of their languages.”

Tyrone McNeil, president of FNESC, agrees.

“The Nsyilxcn Language Fluency Degree aligns with the framework that we have been collectively developing over many years and we are confident that its implementation across the province will advance the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework, the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” he says. “It exemplifies how a respectful and impactful partnership between First Nations, Indigenous institutes, and post-secondary institutions, can advance language revitalization and help develop the next generation of fluent language teachers.

The BC Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training provided $2 million towards the Indigenous Language Proficiency and Fluency Degree Framework for six communities and First Nations-mandated institutes to partner with post-secondary institutions to develop and deliver language degrees.

“This degree is an important achievement at a critical time,” said Anne Kang, minister of advanced education and skills training. “It’s an act of reconciliation and I congratulate the Syilx Nation, the En’owkin Centre, Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, UBC Okanagan, and all the Elders, Knowledge Keepers, speakers and students who have made this possible. Thank you for your work to protect and restore the linguistic heritage of the Syilx/Okanagan People and be the first to work within this new framework designed to support and revive first languages.”

With the BNLF degree representing years of effort by a large number of partners, Dr. Armstrong is quick to point out the support they receive from individual Nsyilxcn speakers in the community.

“We’re grateful for the support from each of the seven communities we’re working with,” she says. “The program relies on the fluent speakers and knowledge keepers, as well as the cultural context of those communities.”

Dr. Armstrong explains that the program piloted last year in three communities and that there are already 15 students set to graduate from the NVIT certificate. Many of them have expressed an interest in continuing their studies with UBC Okanagan when it accepts its first incoming class in September 2021.

“This is an exciting time in the history of our campus and for the relationship we’ve developed with Nsyilxcn speakers throughout the Okanagan,” she says.

“My hope is that this is the first of many more B.C. Indigenous language programs – to come, and that we will be able to expand our collaborations to include other Interior Salishan Languages here at UBC Okanagan.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

COVID-19 shouldn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

COVID-19 shouldn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

UBCO researcher offers advice on stress reduction, relationship maintenance

Unfortunately, love isn’t the only thing in the air this Valentine’s Day season.

The spread of COVID-19 and its new, increasingly contagious variants, paired with public health orders, have forced some couples to reconsider their Valentine’s Day plans.

But is it really the roses, fancy chocolates and in-person dining experiences that show someone how much you care for them?

Dr. Jessica Lougheed, an assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, researches interpersonal emotion dynamics. As February 14 fast approaches, Lougheed  shares some tips for a virtual Valentine:

Physical distancing due to COVID-19 has forced some people to change the way they spend time with their partners. Why is it emotionally difficult for humans to not have physical contact with loved ones?

There’s a growing body of research that shows humans have evolved to function optimally when we’re physically closer to the ones we love. For example, data has shown that our brains are better able to process potential threats and stressors in our environment if we have actual physical contact with someone we love—like hand-holding.

Obviously, many humans have been deprived of this physical contact due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean all is lost—it just means we need to find new ways of connecting to others and managing stress.

How is stress related to mood—and can it impact how we treat our partners?

Stress is closely related to mood. While people have different emotional responses to it, stress can increase one’s irritability and make them feel flatter emotional responses to both good and bad. It can also make people feel like they’re just having a more difficult time navigating the multiple dimensions of day-to-day life like chores, running a household, school, work, kids, friends—all of these things can seem more difficult without the physical support of your partner or close social contacts.

Staying connected, even virtually, helps share the burden of the emotional loads that we’re all carrying around right now. If we don’t take the time to resolve our stress, it can grow over time, and indeed negatively affect our interpersonal relationships. So my recommendation is to acknowledge stress and then find an outlet for it—it could be physical exercise, safely spending time outdoors or even having a good cry, which can really help end the stress response cycle.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching—what advice do you have for those who aren’t comfortable with celebrating in-person, but have a partner who wants to see them?

Being upfront and honest with your partner is by far the best thing you can do—and have the conversation early on, don’t leave it to the last minute. Everyone has a different personal comfort level with managing risks related to COVID-19. Perhaps it stems from living in a multi-generational household or working with someone who has a weakened immune system—no matter what the reasoning, it’s important to emphasize it’s not about not wanting to see your partner. It’s about public health orders and keeping the community safe.

All relationships require ongoing effort to maintain them. You don’t just find a partner and everything is wonderful. Instead, solid, healthy relationships are built on a foundation of honesty, love and care.

Can you have a meaningful Valentine’s Day while apart?

Absolutely! Plenty of businesses offer virtual Valentine’s Day events like wine tastings or art classes. There are all sorts of special activities couples can do together while being apart—it just may require some creative thinking.

I also want to note that it’s actually the little gestures over time that make the biggest impact. Think about sending your partner a message to let them know they’re on your mind or how much you appreciate them working together to solve a problem—showing you value the little, everyday actions are as important as the grand gestures in maintaining a healthy relationship.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Socioeconomic status a significant factor in distrust of powerful

A recent study examining perceptions of power suggests that individuals with lower socioeconomic statuses are more likely to have a negative view of policy or decision-makers.

Leanne ten Brinke, an assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and study co-author, says the study was inspired by her time living in the United States during the 2016 presidential election.

Leanne ten Brinke, assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and study co-author.

Leanne ten Brinke, assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and study co-author.

“I was a post-doc at University of California Berkley and remember being so struck by the different approaches to power being used by then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump,” she explains. “It occurred to me then that people have very different perspectives on what it takes to get to the top.”

In a survey of over 1,000 participants, the study looked at their perceptions of two viable paths to power—one through the use of coercion, manipulation and fear-mongering, and the other rooted in collaboration and respect.

“We were interested in how socioeconomic status might affect one’s view on how power is gained and maintained,” says ten Brinke. “We also wondered how identifying with a theory of power might be associated with one’s interpersonal and societal trust.”

Results showed those with lower socioeconomic statuses were generally less-trusting and more inclined to hold a more coercive and less collaborative view of power, while people with higher socioeconomic statuses were more trusting and embraced the opposite view.

“We also found that people held one theory of power or the other—but not both simultaneously,” explains ten Brinke. “As income inequality continues to rise, and we have a widening gap between the powerful and powerless, these results help us understand how these groups view the human hierarchy in which they live.”

Though it’s unclear exactly where the ‘cut-off’ is for one to have the income and status that leads to a more positive view on power, ten Brinke says this research provides much-needed insight into why people carry such differing views.

“I think a lot of it comes down to trust. If we can change peoples’ theories of power, perhaps we can increase trust where it’s due,” she says, adding that further investigation may be helpful in understanding involvement in the democratic process or why some follow public health guidelines when others don’t.

“There’s considerable research that shows low socioeconomic individuals are less likely to vote than high,” she says.

“Part of that is structural—it may be more difficult for them to get time off work—but I suspect theories of power play into it as well. If you think powerful people are coercive and corrupt and you can’t trust any of them, perhaps you think it doesn’t matter who is in office—but that’s not a healthy democracy, so I see this research as a building block for future work in this area.”

This study was recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Currently accepting students for the 2021 academic year, the newly structured BA is designed to be responsive to students’ needs and to focus on learning in areas that are important for industry when hiring graduates.

Currently accepting students for the 2021 academic year, the newly structured BA is designed to be responsive to students’ needs and to focus on learning in areas that are important for industry when hiring graduates.

‘Not your grandparents’ liberal arts degree,’ says arts dean

In an era when there’s increasing emphasis on students to focus on science, technology, engineering and math—the STEM fields—UBC’s Okanagan campus is relaunching its Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree with an eye to making it even more relevant to today’s changing world.

Currently accepting students for the 2021 academic year, the newly structured BA is designed to be responsive to students’ needs and to focus on learning in areas that are important for industry when hiring graduates. These include communications, critical thinking, scientific and numeric literacy, and Indigenous understanding.

“We’ve done away with the idea of so-called ‘breadth requirements’ in favour of teaching the core skills that employers are clearly looking for,” says Bryce Traister, dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies and acting dean of the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UBC Okanagan—the two faculties that are together offering the new degree.

Traister points to the Indigenous content requirement in particular as an example how the new program is adapting and preparing the newest generation of graduates to grapple with some of the most important issues facing society.

“By introducing an Indigenous studies requirement, UBCO is joining a small handful of universities in Canada working to realize the promise of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission process through education—an important step in creating lasting change for our communities,” says Traister. “Not only do we have a moral imperative to explore and teach these ideas, but the jobs of today and those of tomorrow are going to depend on a workforce with a deep understanding and fulsome appreciation for them.”

But Traister is quick to point out that Indigenous content is just one element of the new BA program. With a long list of courses on offer that he says didn’t exist 20 years ago, students today will benefit from the variety, flexibility and choice that will make their degree more relevant than ever.

“Take a full BA in gender and sexuality studies or race and cultural studies, for example,” he says. “These weren’t available just a generation ago but it’s hard to imagine a subject area more relevant to the working conditions of women and men today, or to our collective engagement with racial inequality and justice.”

While Traister says that the STEM fields are equally important to addressing society’s challenges, it’s when science and engineering are combined with the arts and humanities that humanity can reach its full potential.

“UBCO's Bachelor of Arts degree has been rethought to do exactly that,” he adds. “Graduates will be taught to think critically and creatively, to learn from the past and re-imagine the future—better, greener, safer and more just.”

“There’s never been a more exciting time to pursue a degree in the liberal arts.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

What will it take for workplaces to be truly inclusive?

What: Facing up to Racism at Work, as part of UBCO’s Distinguished Speaker Series
Who: Canadian lawyer, journalist, researcher and equity advocate Dr. Hadiya Roderique
When: Tuesday, November 17 starting at 7 p.m.
Where: Online event at speakers.ok.ubc.ca

Racial inequity is real.

According to 2016 data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Black Canadians are more likely to live in low-income situations, less likely to enrol in post-secondary, and report experiences of discrimination at work or during a hiring process at twice the rate of the rest of Canadians.

Lawyer, journalist and equity advocate Hadiya Roderique.

Lawyer, journalist and equity advocate Hadiya Roderique.

On Wednesday, November 17, UBCO hosts lawyer, journalist and equity advocate Hadiya Roderique as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series.

Highly-respected in her fields, Roderique rose to notoriety following the publication of her 2017 Globe and Mail article, "Being Black on Bay Street," where she shared her experiences working as a young, black, woman lawyer in Toronto’s central business district—delivering a wake-up call to corporate Canada.

In this provocative talk, Roderique will continue to build on these experiences, providing a timely discussion on racial inequities in the workplace. Addressing barriers and challenges, she will counter common arguments with informed data and strategies to help move society toward a true meritocracy.

Roderique holds a law degree, master’s degree in criminology and PhD in organizational behaviour and human resources management from the University of Toronto. In 2018, she was named one of Canadian Lawyers’ 25 Most Influential Lawyers and was recognized with the Rising Star award from the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

The Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Distinguished Speaker Series brings compelling speakers to the homes of Okanagan residents to share their unique perspectives on issues that affect our region, our country and our world.

This virtual event is free and open to all, but online pre-registration is required. To register, visit: speakers.ok.ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Passively scrolling through posts may not result in feelings of happiness

New research from UBC Okanagan indicates what’s most important for overall happiness is how a person uses social media.

Derrick Wirtz, an associate professor of teaching in psychology at the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, took a close look at how people use three major social platforms—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and how that use can impact a person’s overall well-being.

“Social network sites are an integral part of everyday life for many people around the world,” says Wirtz. “Every day, billions of people interact with social media. Yet the widespread use of social network sites stands in sharp contrast to a comparatively small body of research on how this use impacts a person’s happiness.”

Even before COVID-19 and self-isolation became standard practice, Wirtz says social media has transformed how we interact with others. Face-to-face, in-person contact is now matched or exceeded by online social interactions as the primary way people connect. While most people gain happiness from interacting with others face-to-face, Wirtz notes that some come away from using social media with a feeling of negativity—for a variety of different reasons.

One issue is social comparison. Participants in Wirtz’s study said the more they compared themselves to others while using social media, the less happy they felt.

“Viewing images and updates that selectively portray others positively may lead social media users to underestimate how much others actually experience negative emotions and lead people to conclude that their own life—with its mix of positive and negative feelings—is, by comparison, not as good,” he says.

Wirtz notes that viewing other people’s posts and images while not interacting with them lends itself to comparison without the mood-boosting benefits that ordinarily follow social contact, undermining well-being and reducing self-esteem. “Passive use, scrolling through others’ posts and updates, involves little person-to-person reciprocal interaction while providing ample opportunity for upward comparison.”

As part of his research, study participants were asked about four specific functions of Facebook—checking a news feed, messaging, catching up on world news and posting status or picture updates. The most frequently used function was passively checking one’s news feed. Participants primarily used Facebook without directly connecting with other users, and the negative effects on subjective well-being were consistent with this form of use.

During COVID-19, Wirtz notes people naturally turn to social media to reduce feelings of social isolation. Yet, his research (conducted before the pandemic) found that although people used social media more when they were lonely, time spent on social media only increased feelings of loneliness for participants in the study. “Today, the necessity of seeing and hearing friends and family only through social media due to COVID-19 might serve as a reminder of missed opportunities to spend time together.”

The more people used any of these three social media sites, the more negative they reported feeling afterwards. “The three social network sites examined—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—yielded remarkably convergent findings,” he says. “The more respondents had recently used these sites, either in aggregate or individually, the more negative effect they reported when they responded to our randomly-timed surveys over a 10-day period.”

Wirtz’s study also included offline interactions with others, either face-to-face or a phone call. Comparing both offline communication with online, he was able to demonstrate that offline social interaction had precisely the opposite effect of using social media, strongly enhancing emotional well-being.

But all is not lost, Wirtz says, as this research also reveals how people can use social media positively, something more important than ever during COVID-19. He suggests people avoid passively scrolling and resist comparing themselves to other social media users. He also says people should use social media sites to enable direct interactions and social connectedness—for example, talking online synchronously or arranging time spent with others in-person, when possible and with proper precautions.

“If we all remember to do that, the negative impact of social media use could be reduced—and social networks sites could even have the potential to improve our well-being and happiness,” he adds. “In other words, we need to remember how we use social media has the potential to shape the effects on our day-to-day happiness.”

Wirtz’s study was recently published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist and professor in psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist and professor in psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Psychological service adapts to support community during COVID-19

At a time when many are in critical need of counselling and mental health services, UBC Okanagan’s Problematic Substance Clinic use has announced that it will be shifting its services online to support the community during COVID-19.

Founded in 2018 by Zach Walsh, a clinical psychologist and professor in psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the clinic’s mandate is to help members of the Okanagan community reduce the negative effects of drug and alcohol use.

Walsh says physical distancing measures due to COVID-19 have made it challenging for his team to see patients in-clinic, prompting him to transition the service into an online delivery format.

And it comes at a time when, he says, the need is greater than ever.

"Evidence suggests that problematic substance use is on the rise during the pandemic; we’re trying to fill a crucial gap in our community for folks in need of support," explains Walsh, adding that virtual delivery also creates an opportunity for those living in rural Okanagan communities to access care.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction acknowledges the effects of living in a COVID-19 world may indeed lead to an increase in substance-use disorders, noting that major life changes, feelings of social isolation and anxiety from economic despair could result in increasing problematic use of drugs and alcohol.

“I want people in the Okanagan to know that there’s support available to help reduce harms associated with using drugs like alcohol, opioids and others, even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Walsh. “We’re here to help, whether people want to cut back, quit or just change how they use.”

The clinic uses the latest evidence-based treatments to address substance-use disorders from a harm-reduction perspective, providing low-barrier, online treatments for those seeking help with substance abuse.

Walsh is quick to explain that their approach caters to the individual, rather than being one-size-fits-all.

“The treatment team develops individualized intervention plans using approaches like cognitive-behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing to help clients attain their substance-use goals,” says Walsh. “We’re fortunate to have an excellent team of doctoral-level students under my supervision.”

“We meet people where they are at, in a non-judgemental, supportive environment — that’s the care you can expect from this clinic.”

The clinic will be accessible to all, with fees charged on a sliding scale based on income. Those looking for further information are invited to visit the clinic’s webpage.

Please note: the clinic is not able to offer crisis or emergency services.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Lesley Lutes is a professor of psychology and director of clinical training at UBC Okanagan, as well as director of public advocacy for the BC Psychological Association (BCPA).

Lesley Lutes is a professor of psychology and director of clinical training at UBC Okanagan, as well as director of public advocacy for the BC Psychological Association (BCPA).

Successful BC psychological first-aid program to be replaced with two online options

It was nearing the end of March—and Lesley Lutes recalls noticing a shift in attitudes from those who thought the COVID-19 outbreak would be short-lived.

Lutes, professor of psychology and director of clinical training at UBC Okanagan, as well as director of public advocacy for the BC Psychological Association (BCPA), anticipated the coronavirus—and its mental health implications—would be here for an extended period of time, motivating her to begin work recruiting fellow psychologists to offer free teletherapy services to front-line and essential workers.

Ultimately recruiting more than 250 psychologists, Lutes was able to expand the service in April to all British Columbians—completely free of charge.

Each caller shared their COVID-19 story with a registered psychologist, and according to Lutes, over two-thirds of callers have been classified as experiencing moderate levels of distress.

“We’ve received calls ranging from general anxiety to acute homicide and domestic abuse issues, suicide risks and front-line workers who took the virus home to family members,” she says.

“What concerns me most is the high number of callers, mostly from the general population, in moderate distress. Without proper access to evidence-based resources, prevention and intervention services along with follow-up, these individuals may experience a further decline in their mental health.”

This is consistent with what Lutes and colleagues found in a review paper currently in Psynopsis, Canada’s Psychology Magazine, which looked at the mental health impacts and evidence-based solutions to address the long-term implications of COVID-19.

“After reviewing the data, both from the teletherapy service and the psychological impacts and implications globally, it’s clear that people are in need of the next step in care,” says Lutes. “The telephone-based service was the first step, but many folks are now in need of skills for psychological recovery or intervention.”

This extreme need for continued mental health support has driven Lutes to transition the temporary teletherapy line—ceasing operations on July 31—into two online solutions.

Thanks to private donor funding, university support and partnerships with BCPA, Vancouver Coastal Health and Kelty’s Key, a virtual walk-in well-being clinic and an email-assisted online therapy program are now being offered.

“These partnerships enable us to offer these supports for free and deliver them in a virtual, distance-learning format, making them accessible to all British Columbians regardless of income or postal code,” says Lutes.

UBCO’s walk-in well-being clinic provides patients with a 30-minute consultation via web or phone. The sessions will be conducted by a doctoral student in clinical psychology and supervised by a registered psychologist. Sessions are aimed at providing support, resources and, if needed, referral for short-term psychological recovery sessions.

Kelty’s Key is an evidence-based online therapy program created by psychologists at Vancouver Coastal Health. It is also run by graduate students and overseen by registered psychologists, uses the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, and focuses on learning new skills and developing effective coping strategies.

“Virtual support creates instant equity, access and care—and creates a lifeline for those unable to afford psychological services. At the same time, we are training the next generation of registered psychologists.”

Lutes, however, is the first to acknowledge that this is temporary, and given its limited capacity can only provide care to a fraction of those in need—prompting her to continue working with all levels of government and stakeholders to find longer-term solutions.

“The United Nations has warned that a mental health crisis is looming—and that’s completely understandable,” she says.

“COVID-19 has cost us family members, livelihoods, social interactions and much more. If we truly want to rebound from these catastrophic losses—investing in mental health is how we get there.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

A physician uses data science in healthcare research.

A physician uses data science in healthcare research.

UBCO student drops the books, dons medical gear amid COVID-19 outbreak

Ngan Nguyen Lyle was studying for an upcoming data science quiz when she got the call.

Lyle, a Master of Data Science (MDS) student at UBC Okanagan and medical doctor, was being summoned to return to work to support Interior Health’s COVID-19 response team.

“It wasn’t a tough decision,” she says. “I had been following the outbreak in the media and I was starting to realize that this was something extraordinary. I was already thinking about calling former colleagues to see if I could help before I was contacted.”

With the support of her professors and her physician-husband, Lyle returned to work full-time as an infectious disease doctor at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) in late-March.

MDS student and medical doctor Ngan Nguyen Lyle.

MDS student and medical doctor Ngan Nguyen Lyle.

Having worked as an internal medicine resident during the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, Lyle had experience working in stressful environments. But this time was different.

“It was incredibly challenging,” she says. “I was asked to help the infection control team who had been working long days for weeks before I arrived—they were exhausted.”

Lyle worked most days on KGH’s COVID-19 floor, supporting staff who were caring for patients with confirmed or suspected infection due to the virus. She also supported staff in the Intensive Care Unit and the emergency department. She also worked in a somewhat investigative role, reviewing virus case files and addressing questions and concerns brought up by staff.

Though Lyle had previously worked in a clinical setting, she’s grateful for the infection control experience that the outbreak provided her.

“It challenged me,” she says. “I really had to try and find a balance and take everything into consideration.”

After five weeks of supporting the COVID-19 response team without any significant surge in cases, Lyle has shifted her focus back to completing her master’s degree.

Though it’s unlikely Lyle will graduate with her classmates due to the volume of work missed, she’s working with professors to make up assignments and plans to complete the program later this year.

“I definitely don’t regret going back to work,” says Lyle. “Graduating is important to me, but when your community is facing a once-in-a-century pandemic, there was no question as to where I was needed most.”

Now that she’s dropped the scrubs and picked up the books again, her goal is to apply the concepts she’s learning in the MDS program to medicine.

Before moving to the Okanagan, Lyle worked as a research fellow at UBC Vancouver studying sepsis—a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection.

“I was exposed to data informatics in that role but I didn’t have the quantitative or technical skills to engage in those analyses. I wanted to change that,” she explains. “That’s why I came back to school.”

Though Lyle has found the program challenging due to the heavy focus on mathematics, statistics and computer programming, she says it’s been an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.

“Before MDS I was skeptical of the role artificial intelligence and machine learning could play in healthcare — but now that I understand what’s under the hood, the statistics behind the algorithms, I’m more open to the possibility.”

As for the doctors, nurses and hospital staff Lyle worked alongside to care for COVID-19 patients, she’s still in awe.

“I just want to say that they’re all so dedicated, hardworking and that they deserve recognition too. Healthcare is a community effort.”