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Ashcroft/Cache Creek residents wanted for mental health survey

Survey will look at the impacts of climate change events like fires and floods, as well as COVID-19

Researchers from Thompson Rivers University and the University of B.C. Okanagan (UBCO) are looking for anyone over the age of 15 who lives, works, or goes to school in the Ashcroft/Cache Creek area to participate in a research study on the impact of climate change events and COVID-19 on mental health.

The goal of the study is to better understand the impacts of climate change events such as wildfires, flooding, and smoke, and COVID-19, on the mental health of people living in three rural communities in B.C.: Ashcroft/Cache Creek, Keremeos, and Burns Lake. The researchers will also work with the communities to create actions to deal with the impacts of climate change events and COVID-19 on mental health. There are three ways to take part: via a survey, community discussion, or creative arts-based contribution.

“We chose these communities because the researchers have relationships in them, and we know they’ve been hit by climate change events like fires and floods, and now COVID-19,” explains Bonnie Fournier, Associate Professor, School of Nursing, Thompson Rivers University.

The initial study was only going to be about climate change events but COVID-19 was added “because we know that rural communities are going to have different impacts on them than what other communities see, especially around mental health,” Fournier said. “What we’re really interested in doing is not just exploring the bad stuff, but inquiring into this to build resilient communities: how do we do that as a community to buffer against these things that might happen again in the future?”

The survey is in three parts, with parts two and three being optional. The survey asks questions about the person taking it, their experience, and/or the experiences of others in their community regarding the mental health impacts of climate change events and COVID-19. The link to complete all or parts of the survey is at http://bit.ly/2Wvzli7.

“We’re also looking for creative arts things. People who are artists might have written poems or done drawings as a result of the impact of what has happened in their community,” Fournier said.

The data collected from the survey will be summarized and used to discuss the impacts on mental health in relation to to climate change events and COVID-19, and to create community actions together at a community dialogue session. These community dialogue sessions will take place in the new year after the survey data has been collected.

“We find and collect information through our survey, and ask people to share, then ask what can we do about it. What needs to happen to build resiliency amongst the people and community so there can be things to protect mental health?”

Fournier says there are definite parallels between COVID-19 and the events of 2017.

“There is lots of anxiety. People have the fear of getting the virus, and if a loved one needs to go to hospital and you can’t be there with them, that causes anxiety. If you have a tendency to something like depression, it can be amplified by climate change events like fire, and now COVID-19.

“We’ll document not just how many people are affected, but also the depth of it. Even one event can impact someone. Multiple events can really spiral their mental health coping strategies, which are already at the limit; then more gets added, and they have no reserves left. Fear is at the root of a lot of it, and we need to hear from everybody, no matter how they were affected.”

For more information, contact Nelly Oelke (Associate Professor, School of Nursing, UBCO, at (250) 807-9880 or nelly.oelke@ubc.ca) or Carolyn Szostak (Associate Professor, Psychology, UBCO, at (250) 807-8736 or carolyn.szostak@ubc.ca).


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