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Regina psychology professor helps develop COVID-19 stress scales

Click to play video: 'Regina psychology professor helps develop COVID-19 stress scales' Regina psychology professor helps develop COVID-19 stress scales
A U of R professor is part of a team looking into stress caused by the pandemic, and people’s mental health responses dealing with the virus. As Allison Bamford explains, there’s hope an online tool can help Canadians cope. – Nov 4, 2020

Just as COVID-19 cases come in waves, so does increased stress created by the pandemic.

Derek Davidson knows all about it.

He’s been back working at his office since July, after a brief work-from-home stint.

“It’s nerve-racking,” he said.

“We haven’t had any issues, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect your stress level.”

Davidson’s biggest concern is contracting the virus and spreading it to his bubble.

Read more: U of R offering free online mental health support for students across province

“I have family members that I don’t want to see get sick,” he said.

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“You hear stories of long-term impacts and things we don’t know yet.”

Davidson isn’t alone.

A University of Regina psychology professor is part of a research team looking into stress levels and the mental health responses that come with the pandemic.

According to Dr. Gordon Asmundson, their research normalizes pandemic stress, but also creates coping tools that could be even more important during the second wave.

Read more: Saskatchewan making masks mandatory in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert

“As we’re seeing an increase in cases and increased restrictions, people’s stress responses are going up,” Asmundson told Global News.

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Using data from 7,000 respondents, the group developed COVID stress scales that address five mental health responses: danger and contamination fears, socioeconomic concerns, xenophobia, traumatic stress and compulsive checking.

The COVID stress scales assess five core features of COVID-19-related stress.
The COVID stress scales assess five core features of COVID-19-related stress. Courtesy: Psychology of Pandemics Network

These components make up what they call COVID Stress Syndrome.

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“People who score higher on the COVID stress scales, or who look like they may have COVID Stress Syndrome, are also individuals who tend to cope ineffectively,” Asmundson said.

Negative coping mechanisms include increased drinking, drug use and panic buying, according to Asmundson.

Findings show that more than 50 per cent of all Canadians and Americans are moderately to severely distressed by the pandemic.

Read more: COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan

Sixteen per cent of the population falls under the severe category. Thirteen per cent are “significantly impaired” when it comes to functioning in their social and occupational lives.

“We know that people who have pre-existing mental health conditions have been more negatively affected,” Asmundson said.

“But it’s not just those individuals. It depends on a variety of factors that we’re still looking into.”

About 16 per cent of adults have severe COVID Stress Syndrome. Courtesy: Psychology of Pandemics Network

Asmundson’s team developed a free online assessment to rate COVID-19 stress.

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It indicates how an individual is doing compared to the rest of the population, as well as provides self-help recommendations based on the results.

But like the pandemic, the research is ongoing.

Asmundson said the next step is to develop a specific, accessible intervention that will directly target the five aspects of COVID Stress Syndrome.

Ideally, Asmundson said it will be available online or through a mobile app.

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This is why some may be against mask use, according to a Regina psychology professor – Sep 17, 2020

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