Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

woman in pain

New UBCO research determines psychopaths may have a decreased ability to sense someone else’s pain.

While the manipulative and sometimes violent behaviour of psychopaths might be attributed to a lack of empathy, new UBC Okanagan research suggests that psychopaths may have a decreased ability to even sense someone else’s pain.

Dr. Kimberley Kaseweter, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at UBCO, has recently published research examining the relationship between psychopathic traits and perceiving other people’s facial expressions of pain. Her paper was published in the Journal of Personality Disorders.

“A lot of the literature has focused on those basic emotions and psychopathy, like anger, fear and sadness,” says Dr. Kaseweter. “Almost no research has really focused on pain, which I found surprising because of the association between pain and violent behaviour.”

For this study, participants completed the Self-Report Psychopathy Scale to assess psychopathic traits within four different facets: callous affect, interpersonal manipulation, antisocial behaviour and erratic lifestyle. They also watched video recordings of patients manipulating injured shoulders in range-of-motion tests and then rated both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain from patients’ facial expressions.

These recordings from actual patients showed spontaneous, natural expressions of pain that had been intensely coded frame by frame. The patients also self-reported their pain from these manipulations.

Dr. Kaseweter and her team were interested in whether psychopathic traits were connected to differences in how these participants might perceive others’ pain. They also wanted to know if that difference was due to conservative response bias—consistently rating all perceived pain lower on the pain scale—reduced perceptual sensitivity—inaccurate ratings, whether higher or lower—or both of these factors.

“We were able to break those two factors apart and tease that apart, which I think really gets at answering our questions. Do individuals who were high in psychopathic traits have an inability to see the facial expression of pain? Or if they can actually see it and just don’t care,” she says.

The study found that while people with psychopathic traits did not have a response bias—or were no more or less likely in general to ascribe pain to people—they were significantly less accurate in their ratings of pain in other people’s facial expressions.

This reduced sensitivity to other people’s pain was most associated with callous affect and antisocial behaviour. Dr. Kaseweter says this finding is not surprising, giving callous affect is related to low empathy and reduced concern for others while antisocial behaviour involves engaging in criminal acts.

The literature on psychopathy is still unclear on the underlying causes behind these facets of psychopathy, but Dr. Kaseweter says this study showed that one possible mechanism might be a reduced ability to see other people’s pain. The violence inhibition mechanism model suggests that in order to experience empathy, people have to first be able to accurately perceive someone’s distress to then withdraw from violent behaviour.

This study, she says, supports that theory.

“If they’re not accurately perceiving those facial expressions, they’d be missing the ability to identify that expression and then feel empathy and pull away from that violent behaviour.”

While psychopaths have high rates of criminal behaviour, rehabilitation efforts with current treatments for these individuals have been largely ineffective, if not at times counterproductive.

Dr. Kaseweter is hopeful that this study could help isolate an area to direct more successful treatment in the future, especially with the clarification between response bias and actual inaccuracies in pain sensitivity.

“I think it’s a very important distinction. So how do we help? Is it just that people high in psychopathic traits don’t care? Then we have to teach them empathy in a different way. Or is it that they’re not seeing facial expressions accurately? Our findings suggest the latter—and that this decreased ability to detect pain accurately may underlie the lack of empathy we see with psychopathy.

“If this is the case, then training interventions designed to improve pain detection may, in turn, reduce the callous affect and antisocial behaviour characterizing psychopathy.”

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A photo of graduating students throwing their hats

UBCO is hosting a unique fall graduation ceremony Thursday. Students who graduated in 2020 and 2021 will now have the opportunity to toss their caps in celebration like these students did in 2018.

They’re baaack!

This week UBC Okanagan’s campus will be filled with students, now alumni, who graduated and were celebrated with a virtual ceremony during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 600 are returning to campus to take part in a special ceremony on November 10. The event will recognize the accomplishments of those who didn’t have the chance to experience that iconic opportunity of crossing the stage to receive their degree at a live graduation.

This will be the first time UBC Okanagan has hosted a fall graduation ceremony and it’s a special event for those who graduated in 2020 and 2021, says UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr. Lesley Cormack. Those graduates were surveyed and many indicated they were interested in coming back to campus for a make-up graduation ceremony.

“These are students who completed their studies during a particularly difficult and disconnected time,” Dr. Cormack says. “While UBC honoured our graduates during the height of the pandemic with virtual ceremonies, nothing can compare to the distinction of an in-person event, complete with student speakers and a gym full of proud family members.”

Each ceremony will be complete with speeches from students and special moments to recognize people who received honorary degrees during the pandemic.

Evangeline Saclamacis, who graduated with an applied sciences degree in 2021, is currently working with an international renewable power generation business in Vancouver. She says there are a lot of emotions flowing as she looks forward to returning to UBCO for the ceremony and connecting with former classmates.

“I’m excited to see how the campus has changed since I was last there, and also inspired to see how much I have changed since I first started as a student in 2016,” she says. “UBCO was a place that not only allowed me to grow as an individual, but also allowed me to connect with people with similar aspirations and goals. I’m really excited to return and walk the stage, closing the chapter on my bachelor’s degree.”

Aneesha Thouli, who graduated from UBC Okanagan’s Health and Exercise Sciences program in 2020, is now back at school and is currently a third-year medical student in the Southern Medical Program based at UBCO.

“While this ceremony will look different than any of us expected, I’m grateful we have the chance finally to celebrate,” she says. “I think having been alumni for a few years gives us a unique perspective on the ceremony overall and gives us an opportunity to celebrate our successes in a totally different way than previous classes.”

Three ceremonies will take place on November 10, the first starting at 8:30 am with School of Engineering graduates. Following that, graduates in the School of Education, Faculty of Management and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science will cross the stage. The final ceremony takes place at 1:30 pm where graduates in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Health and Social Development and the Faculty of Creative and Critical studies will be celebrated.

Rain Inaba graduated with an undergraduate degree in microbiology and remained at UBCO to begin his master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology. Inaba is excited to reconnect with the many friends he made while living in residences and says Thursday’s ceremony will allow his fellow graduates to relive past moments and finally celebrate with their families, friends and faculty members.

“With these ceremonies, alumni from all faculties are welcomed back to the campus we all called home for many years,” he says. “This is a day of deserved festivities and a moment of recognition for our graduates. Let us make the ceremonies loud and memorable for each of our classmates as they cross the stage.”

As they have already technically been conferred as UBCO graduates and are officially UBC alumni, these ceremonies will be slightly different from spring convocation. However, Dr. Cormack says every student, especially those who persevered with their studies online, should enjoy the moments of being celebrated at their own graduation ceremony.

“While different, these ceremonies will include many of the traditions of graduation to honour the profound achievements and celebrate the resiliency of these students,” Dr. Cormack says. “We’re proud to have these incredibly engaged alumni who are going out of their way to come back for their graduation. I’m looking forward to congratulating each and every one of them in person.”

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A photo of Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Environmental, cultural and human rights advocate Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

What: UBC Okanagan’s Distinguished Speaker Series event: Re-imagining a New Way Forward with Intention
Who: Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier
When: Thursday, October 27 beginning at 7 pm
Venue: Kelowna Community Theatre

Every decision a person makes—whether it is a commitment to sustainability, the businesses they support or their levels of consumption—has global impact.

The current realities of the Arctic and the challenges that Inuit face are a consequence of everyone’s actions. How are these policies and choices contributing to the state of the Arctic and the planet?

On Thursday, October 27, UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences hosts Sheila Watt-Cloutier as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series.

Watt-Cloutier is an environmental, cultural and human rights advocate. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and is recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Aboriginal Achievement Award and the United Nations Champion of the Earth Award.

She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy work surrounding the impact of global climate change on human rights. Her memoir The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet was nominated for many awards including being shortlisted for CBC Canada Reads.

During her presentation, Watt-Cloutier will share her Arctic perspective and discuss the interconnectedness of the environment, economy, foreign policy, health and human rights and how this will impact the future of our planet.

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 event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

For registration details, visit: fass.ok.ubc.ca/about/community-engagement/distinguished-speaker-series

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Pregnant Woman and Gynecologist Doctor at Hospital

Using cannabis while pregnant to combat nausea and vomiting, pain and sleep disturbances while pregnant is nothing new, say UBCO researchers. But women continue to face significant barriers about discussing this use with their health-care practitioners.

A UBC Okanagan researcher is calling for doctors to have an open mind when it comes to cannabis use to combat nausea and other symptoms during pregnancy.

Doctoral student Sarah Daniels recently published research examining the stigma—and the lack of open communication with their doctor—pregnant women experience if they discuss therapeutic cannabis use while pregnant. Her research was published recently in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

Daniels, who studies with Psychology Professor Dr. Zach Walsh in UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says cannabis use during pregnancy is nothing new. But women face significant barriers to discussing this use with their health-care practitioners.

“Historically, cannabis has been used during pregnancy and childbirth—orally, topically, by suppository and by inhalation—to treat nausea and vomiting, pain, sleep disturbances and other symptoms,” says Daniels.

Despite decades of widespread prohibition, she notes cannabis remains among the most widely used drug in Canada in both general and prenatal populations.

More than 100 women participated in an online survey and 34 per cent reported using cannabis during pregnancy. Of those, 89 per cent said they used cannabis for prenatal nausea, and 92 per cent said cannabis is “effective” or “extremely effective” in treating their symptoms. A further 69 per cent said they substituted cannabis in place of a prescribed pharmaceutical.

This is particularly relevant in a landscape where there are few effective treatments for vomiting while pregnant, a condition that can have significant negative health impacts on both the mother and the developing fetus, Daniels says.

Research into prenatal use has resulted in ambiguous results, she adds. Some studies have reported differences in birth weight, head circumference, fetal development and neurodevelopment. Other studies have characterized the use as benign and attribute alleged negative effects to other variables such as poor prenatal nutrition, folate deficiency and tobacco use.

“While we do not have definitive and conclusive clinical data on the full range of potential consequences of cannabis use during pregnancy, the same is true for most pharmaceutical drugs currently available to those who may be pregnant,” says Daniels. “As such, physicians typically utilize their clinical insight to weigh the potential benefits compared to the potential harms in each case.”

Daniels says that physicians should drop the stigma and apply the same cost-benefit analysis to cannabis.

“Stigmatization has been identified as a barrier to discussing therapeutic cannabis use between a woman and her doctor,” says Daniels. “Patients report perceived negative responses from physicians when broaching the subject and fear that their care and the relationship with their physician will be negatively impacted.”

Of those pregnant women using cannabis, 62 per cent said they were not comfortable discussing it with their doctor and 74 per cent agreed they would not share this information with a health-care provider in future pregnancies because they sensed disapproval from their doctor.

Adding to the confusion, Daniels says health-care practitioners acknowledge not having enough information about cannabis use, both generally and specifically, to discuss it in an informed manner with a pregnant patient. A recent educational needs assessment found that physicians, nurses and medical students reported significant knowledge gaps and a lack of training and information about medical cannabis.

Daniels says a growing interest and conflicting information regarding the risks and benefits of therapeutic cannabis use while pregnant suggests a need to develop strategies that will provide women with the best available resources so they can make informed decisions with their doctor about using it.

“This research provides further evidence that prenatal cannabis use is pretty common—more common than people are often comfortable acknowledging,” says Daniels. “However, there continues to be this fear of judgment.

“At the end of the day, we want women to be able to have these conversations with their physicians to provide the best care possible without decisions being impacted by moral judgement, misinformation or stigma. Clear and effective communication with health-care providers—beyond issues of abstinence and legality—is essential to enable the safest therapeutic use of cannabis by pregnant women.”

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A person cutting grapes with garden shears

Giving your guests the chance to participate in agricultural workshops or hands-on activities are just some of the ways wineries can create an authentic and memorable holiday, new research from UBC Okanagan suggests.

Establishing a sense of place—letting visitors dig right into the soil and smell the earth where the grapes are grown for their wine—is one strategy wineries can use to revive lagging tourism numbers coming out of the pandemic, new research from UBC Okanagan reveals.

Research Associate Darcen Esau and supervisor Dr. Donna Senese, an Associate Professor in Geography in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, collaborated on new research published recently in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

“It really does come down to ensuring people understand that wine tourism is a multi-sensory experience,” says Esau.

The findings come thanks to research focused on Italy’s renowned Tuscany wine region in 2018.

Finding “slow, small and local” is what wine tourists crave on vacation, and is what makes Tuscany a world leader in wine tourism. It also provides a simple framework others can follow regardless of where in the world they are located.

“We often think of tourism as just being visual, at just looking at the landscape,” Esau says. “It’s about engaging all five of our senses through participation at a working farm and actually getting a little mud under your fingernails, touching the vines, smelling the wine cellar or hearing a tractor drive by.”

The feeling of being part of an agricultural lifestyle can be accomplished through workshops or hands-on activities. It is this participation in agricultural activity that helps vacationing visitors escape, which makes the whole experience feel more authentic and memorable, he explains.

Esau wanted to understand how the sensory experience of wine tourism can create a unique association with a wine destination, providing memorable experiences that are both unique and authentic. Much of that investigating was done during a four-week trip to Castello Sonnino winery in the valleys of Central Italy. Yes, spending a month on a working vacation at a Tuscan winery is part of a class offered at UBCO.

But the winery is also an education centre and provides lessons to the world, Dr. Senese says.

Dr. Senese, who conducts research with UBC’s Wine Research Centre, has led UBC courses in the Chianti wine appellation four times to study the connections between wine, food and tourism in the sustainability of the region’s geography.

She calls Esau’s findings eye-opening, and further confirmation of what she has held dear for the past 20 years. Respecting place is at the heart of every geographer, like her, and she wants the wine industry to embrace a holistic approach in their thinking.

“It is sensual on all five levels,” she says. “For our students, one of the standouts about visiting a lot of those wineries in Tuscany, and the experiences they have, is the breathtaking passion the people at the wineries have for the product and the place.

“It’s odd to see tears coming to the eyes of students going, ‘Wow. I haven’t had this experience before, and these people are so passionate about what they’re doing.’”

The research comes at an especially important time for a wine industry attempting to recover from a global pandemic. According to a study commissioned by Wine Growers British Columbia and released in mid-August, wine-related tourism in the Okanagan declined to 254,000 visits in 2020 from 1.2 million in 2019.

Dr. Senese is quick to encourage smaller wine regions, such as the Okanagan Valley, to embrace the findings and give their visitors the full sensory experience. After all, many small wineries rely on tourists and local tastings rather than flooding global markets with exported products.

At the same time, the research also applies to all wine regions regardless of their numbers as they seek to drive tourism and subsequent visitation.

“It really is about downplaying that commercial component and emphasizing the local craftsmanship,” says Esau, “which a large winery can do as well. We see great examples of it throughout the Okanagan.”

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A person stepping on a scale to measure their body weight.

While many people may try the do-it-yourself approach when it comes to dieting, new UBCO research says a paid program could yield better results.

For people trying to improve their health and lose weight by themselves—privately tracking and journaling meals and exercise—new research from UBC Okanagan suggests it is time to call in the professionals.

Dr. Lesley Lutes’ latest research paper, published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, suggests people trying to make lifestyle changes are more successful when they use a commercial weight loss program compared to those trying to do it on their own. She is the Director of UBC’s Centre for Obesity and Well-Being Research Excellence and studies behavioural change programs aimed at improving physical and emotional health and personal happiness.

“Given the prevalence of obesity, accessible and effective treatment options are needed to manage obesity and its comorbid conditions including heart disease and pre-diabetes,” she says. “Evidence-based commercial weight management programs are a potential solution to the lack of available treatment and considerably cheaper than a clinic-based approach.”

But, she notes, very few commercial programs have been rigorously evaluated, making it difficult for doctors to refer patients to for-profit programs due to a lack of evidence-based success rates.

While there are hundreds of commercial weight loss programs available—only six meet the United States Preventive Services Taskforce criteria—the quality and success rate, along with behavioural and nutritional components, isn’t well known by health-care providers.

Even fewer of these programs integrate cognitive, affective and behavioural factors—seen as critical elements of care and supported as the basic standard of any care.

As a result, she says, doctors are reluctant to refer patients to commercial programs.

The Canadian Medical Association clinical practice guidelines released in 2020 state that obesity care should be based on evidence-based principles of chronic disease management and must validate patients lived experiences.

“Essentially, obesity care needs to move beyond the simplistic approaches of ‘eat less, move more,’” she says. “To be successful it must address the root drivers of obesity.”

Dr. Lutes was one of the lead investigators who conducted a year-long study in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. More than 370 participants were randomly assigned into two groups—half to a commercial weight management program and the remaining to a do-it-yourself (DIY) group.

The DIY participants were provided with common weight-loss approaches—including strategies, diet tracking, self-monitoring apps, meal plans and physical activity—then essentially left to their own devices.

Those in the commercial program were encouraged to attend weekly workshops that included a private weight assessment and discussed successes, problem-solving and topics related to weight loss and behaviour change. Participants also had access to an app, which included minimal self-monitoring of intake, activity and weight along with articles, around-the-clock support and an online community.

“One of the features of the commercial program used in this study was that self-monitoring was simplified to be less burdensome,” Dr. Lutes says. “Participants did not need to weigh, measure or track more than 200 foods, simplifying the process as much as possible.”

At three and 12 months, participants in both groups were assessed. Those randomized to the commercial weight management program lost more than twice as much weight and reduced their waist circumference by a greater percentage compared to those in the DIY group.

There were also secondary benefits for both groups including improvements in blood pressure, heart rate, aerobic stamina, flexibility and sleep.

Dr. Lutes emphasizes two key takeaways. First, the researchers determined adults assigned to a globally available commercial weight management program had greater success at three months. And, importantly, they felt supported and were able to maintain and continue that weight loss across 12 months. Those using the DIY approach had fewer successes.

She also notes this research provides a tool for care providers and policy-makers who see obesity as a serious health concern.

“This information can help me advocate the government about one of the many ways they can support patients in our province to improve health and wellbeing,” she says. “Perhaps our leaders can think about subsidizing access to commercial weight-loss programs that are proven effective. It could be a major step in helping achieve desperately needed improved health outcomes.”

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A photo of the Canadian flag looking over Ottawa

The UBC Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies will offer a speaker series, workshops and conferences geared towards students, faculty members and the legal community.

What: The Charter at 40: Landmark Cases in Four Decades of Supreme Court Jurisprudence
Who: Supreme Court of Canada Justice Suzanne Côté
When: Thursday, September 8, from 4 to 6 pm
Where: University Centre Ballroom (UNC 200), 3272 University Way, Kelowna, or via livestream

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms turned 40 this spring. To honour its anniversary and celebrate the recent creation of the UBC Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies, UBCO will host its first public lecture on Thursday, September 8.

The lecture will see Justice Suzanne Côté, appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014, address landmark cases around defining rights and freedoms, reasonable limits and also define the scope of charter protections and remedies.

This public lecture is the first in a series of events hosted by the newly founded UBC Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies. The centre is based in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and includes affiliates from UBC Vancouver, the Allard School of Law and elsewhere.

“The UBC Centre for Constitutional Law and Legal Studies will offer a speaker series, workshops and conferences geared towards students, faculty members, the legal community and anyone else interested in legal issues,” says Dr. Andrew Irvine, Assistant Director of the centre and Professor in the Department of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science.

The centre will also serve as an intellectual home to UBC faculty and others working on research connected to constitutional law, constitutionalism, the rule of law, separation of powers, rights and liberties, the philosophy of law and related legal topics.

The event begins at 4 pm in UBCO’s University Centre Ballroom and is free and open to all, with pre-registration required.

To register, or learn more about the centre and upcoming events, visit: ccl.ubc.ca/events

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Healthcare Assistance in a home helping an Indigenous woman

A UBCO researcher is calling attention to a gap in health equality for Indigenous women who live off-reserve.

A UBC Okanagan researcher is calling attention to the looming gap in health equality when it comes to Indigenous populations living off-reserve in Canada.

Specifically, Indigenous women.

New research by Assistant Professor Dr. Min Hu confirms that a particular population group has the worst health outcomes of any resident in Canada.

“The statistics are clear. Indigenous males have better health outcomes than Indigenous females,” he says. “However, we already know Indigenous people have worse health than many other populations in Canada. And my research finds Indigenous women have the worst of the worst when it comes to health conditions.”

Dr. Hu, who teaches economics in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, calls this a serious gap in health equality.

For this paper, published recently in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, Dr. Hu compared data collected from four cycles of Aboriginal People Surveys (APS) collected from 2001 to 2017. Each APS is a large, nationally representative cross-sectional survey of more than 20,000 Indigenous peoples living off-reserve and participants were asked to self-assess their health with ratings from poor to excellent.

Dr. Hu then took that data and examined the answers between male and female participants.

“This is the first time a study investigates the difference in gender health of Canada’s Indigenous people,” Dr. Hu says. “And each survey presents the same—and quite clear picture—that Indigenous women who live off-reserve, do not have the same positive health outcomes as their male counterparts.”

What’s also concerning, he notes, is the statistics have worsened over time. The gap increased from 1.5 per cent to 5.3 per cent in 2012 and a further 2.7 per cent in 2017.

“As a nation, we seem to pay attention to the overall Indigenous populations and now I’m looking at the socioeconomic point of view of these statistics,” he says. “I’m hoping this paper gets the attention of policy-makers to look at this very real gap in health equality.”

There are other ways to indirectly close the health gap between genders, he says, specifically looking at educational and career opportunities for women that could improve their employment prospects and household incomes. These main socioeconomic factors will determine a person’s health.

He suggests federal leaders could explore employment opportunities for women, while also examining such policies as the Canadian Child Benefit and other tax credits or social welfare programs to help lessen the gap.

“As an economist, I look at how socioeconomic factors affect the health outcomes of Indigenous Canadians,” he adds. “We know increasing income would improve health outcomes, and we know improving employment opportunities would make a difference. Now we need to act on this knowledge.”

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A girl who is experiencing bullying at high school

New UBCO research confirms a brief text-based conversation with a trained counsellor can help users to feel safe and de-escalate a mental health crisis.

Can a text conversation provide the support needed when someone is seeking help during a mental health breakdown?

New research from UBC Okanagan is saying yes, crisis text lines are useful and effective.

Dr. Susan Holtzman, who teaches psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, explains that mental health crisis services have expanded recently beyond telephone hotlines to include communication methods such as live chat and texting.

Dr. Holtzman notes there is growing pressure in Canada to create one three-digit suicide crisis hotline which would be similar to the one launched recently in the United States. If implemented in Canada, not only would it be easier for Canadians to immediately access help, it would also confirm that Canada sees mental health care and suicide prevention as serious matters of concern.

“Every year, millions of people all over the world reach out to crisis text lines,” Dr. Holtzman says. “However, because crisis text lines are anonymous, very little is known about the user experience. And despite rising mental health problems worldwide and a high uptake of crisis text line services, they remain understudied.”

Dr. Holtzman’s team, led by clinical psychology doctoral student Alanna Coady, turned to Twitter posts to examine how crisis text lines users responded to their experiences with the crisis lines.

Analyzing 776 tweets the research team examined six main themes including approval, helpful or unhelpful counselling, service delivery issues, accessibility and whether the service suits multiple mental health needs.

Overall, results determined text-based crisis support works, as many users reported positive experiences of effective counselling including helpful coping skills, de-escalation and reduction of harm.

“The goal of this project was to gather first-hand accounts of people who use crisis text lines to better understand the benefits and limitations of these services,” explains Coady. “Many users preferred the discreetness of texting over calling a crisis line, and the majority of tweets indicated that users found the service helpful.”

However, she notes there are drawbacks to texting crisis lines, including long wait times. Users also noted that some responses from counsellors were described as cliché, overly scripted or invalidating. This could be somewhat related to the texting platform, she explains, which can be more prone to misunderstandings.

“While some people may encounter negative reviews of crisis text lines on social media, our findings suggest that positive experiences are much more common and users report a wide range of benefits, including feelings of validation and concrete coping strategies,” Coady adds. “Overall, crisis text lines appear to be a promising method of delivering crisis support.”

Dr. Holtzman notes the study, published recently in Internet Interventions, did not make a direct comparison between telephone and text-based crisis lines. The purpose of the research was to examine user response. Results also identified areas for improvement, particularly ensuring more timely service delivery and effective communication of empathy.

“Our findings highlight that more research is needed to understand how we can effectively communicate empathy and understanding through texting,” she says. “At the same time, this research suggests that even a brief text-based conversation with a trained counsellor can lead users to feel safe and supported during their darkest hours. Given the many barriers to mental health treatment in our society, as well as the further strain caused by the pandemic, text-based crisis lines warrant much more attention from researchers than they have been given in the past.”

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A photo of psilocybin mushrooms

A new UBCO study found that microdosing psilocybin demonstrated greater improvements in mood, mental health and psychomotor ability for participants.

The latest study to examine how tiny amounts of psychedelics can impact mental health provides further evidence of the therapeutic potential of microdosing.

Published in Nature-Scientific Reports this week, the study followed 953 people taking regular small amounts of psilocybin and a second group of 180 people that were not microdosing. This research, led by UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Zach Walsh and doctoral student Joseph Rootman is the latest study to come from the Microdose.me project.

For the 30-day study, participants were asked to complete a number of assessments that tap into mental health symptomology, mood and measures of cognition. For example, a smartphone finger tap test was integrated into the study to measure psychomotor ability, which can be used as a marker for neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson’s disease.

Those microdosing demonstrated greater improvements in mood, mental health and psychomotor ability over the one-month period compared to non-microdosing peers who completed the same assessments.

“This is the largest longitudinal study of this kind to date of microdosing psilocybin and one of the few studies to engage a control group,” says Dr. Walsh, who teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “Our findings of improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress add to the growing conversation about the therapeutic potential of microdosing.”

Large doses of psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms have a long history of use among some Indigenous peoples and are prized in Western culture for their psychedelic effects, explains Dr. Walsh. They were also labelled an illicit substance during the American-led “war on drugs.” But recent interest has expanded from large dose psychedelic use—known for creating dramatic alterations in mood and consciousness—to the potential therapeutic application of smaller microdoses. Amounts so small they minimally interfere with daily functioning.

The Microdose.me project is conducted by an international team including Dr. Pam Kryskow from UBC Vancouver, Maggie Kiraga and Dr. Kim Kuypers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, American mycologist Paul Stamets, and Kalin Harvey and Eesmyal Santos-Brault of the Quantified Citizen health research platform.

Microdosing involves regular self-administration in doses small enough to not impair normal cognitive functioning. The doses can be as small as 0.1 to 0.3 grams of dried mushrooms and taken three to five times a week.

The most widely reported substances used for microdosing are psilocybin mushrooms and LSD. Psilocybin mushrooms are considered non-addictive and relatively non-toxic—especially when compared to tobacco, opioids and alcohol.

“Our findings of mood and mental health improvements associated with psilocybin microdosing align with previous studies of psychedelic microdosing, and add to them through the use of a longitudinal study design and large sample that allowed us to examine consistency of effects across age, gender and their mental health,” says Rootman.

The comparisons of microdosers to non-microdosers over the one-month period of the study indicated greater improvements among microdosers when asked about their mood, depression, anxiety and stress, he explains. Analyses of the finger tap test showed that microdosers demonstrated a more positive change in performance than non-microdosers, particularly among people over the age of 55.

“Despite the promising nature of these findings, there is a need for further research to more firmly establish the nature of the relationship between microdosing, mood and mental health, and the extent to which these effects are directly attributable to psilocybin rather than participant expectancies about the substance,” says Dr. Walsh.

The study was not designed to investigate the potential influence of participant expectancy on microdose outcomes, but the authors note this is a necessary advancement in the field.

“Considering the tremendous health costs and ubiquity of depression and anxiety, as well as the sizable proportion of patients who do not respond to existing treatments, the potential for another approach to addressing these disorders warrants substantial consideration,” Rootman says.

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