• Atlantic-IMN Students

Links with Psychological Distress: Social Stressors, Community Belonging and Participation

This blog post is written by Jocelyn Paul, Master of Psychiatry Research Student at Dalhousie University.


My name is Jocelyn Paul. I was born and raised on Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in British Columbia, but my home First Nation is Membertou in Nova Scotia. I am in the Master’s in Psychiatry Research Program under the supervision of Dr. Amy Bombay (Dalhousie University). I am very grateful to have the support of an Atlantic Indigenous Mentorship Network Master’s scholarship. Receiving this scholarship is an honour for me, and I feel very fortunate to be supported by such a progressive up-and-coming network. This scholarship is currently helping me accomplish my Master of Science with feelings of hope and ease as this provides me with financial stability. I’m therefore able to focus on the specific requirements of my current degree and excel in these areas. The scholarship has also provided the opportunity to be able to conduct my research and disseminate this knowledge through various means, such as through posters (that often require a fee to create).

I am interested in the links between social stressors heightening psychological distress, cultural identity factors decreasing psychological distress, and whether particular cultural identity factors can buffer against negative health outcomes associated with psychological distress that have been exacerbated by particular social stressors. To explore this, Dr. Amy Bombay, myself and other stakeholders and colleagues are using the First Nations National Regional Health Survey Data (2015/16) from youth and adult First Nations populations living on-reserve in Canada. I was motivated to participate in this research and assist in the exploration of these topics because I believe racism, bullying and aggression are prevalent social stressors that are consistently linked to poor psychological health. However, it is unclear what specific cultural identity facets help alleviate distress independently and/or in feelings of distress that are exacerbated through negative social circumstance(s). We are finding clear links between social stressors and feelings of psychological distress and which facets of cultural identity buffer them.

For example, we found that participation in community cultural events buffered against experiences of verbal and physical aggression in relation to heightened feelings of psychological distress for First Nations adults living on-reserve in Canada; and a sense of community belonging buffered against experiences of cyberbullying and perceived racism amongst the same population. Indeed, few studies have looked at the buffering impact of cultural identity relative to social stress and psychological outcomes; so not only is the scholarship supporting my research and all other academic endeavours related to my degree, it is also helping to support some interesting, novel research, which can ideally inform programs and policies in the future. I feel very proud to be able to work on such a project, along with working under the supervision of Dr. Amy Bombay, who has been a role model to me throughout this process.

Overall, we are finding that distinct cultural factors have distinct outcomes relative to having experienced a very specific type of social stress such as racism, bullying, aggression and cyberbullying, and the subsequent expected feelings of heightened distress. Our team needs to further delineate these findings through discussions to determine how different community members from various communities such as Membertou understand our quantitative findings and where they believe next steps should lead. I am truly grateful to the Atlantic IMN for believing in my potential and my abilities enough to financially support me. The sense of community with everyone within this network is unlike any other and I cannot thank you enough for supporting me throughout this journey

Photo Credit: Sarah Brucker, Photographer .

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