Dr. Natasha Gallant, University of Regina
Can you describe your area of research and how it is helping address a health-related issue in Saskatchewan?
My area of research is focused on the mental health of persons living with chronic diseases. When I say chronic diseases, I’m talking about conditions that last longer than three months and limit the activities in which a person with that chronic disease can participate. In Saskatchewan, about 75% of its residents are living with at least one major chronic disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and heart failure. We already know that, when someone is living with a chronic disease, it can have a significant impact on their mental health. My work is aimed at testing the efficacy and effectiveness of a psychological intervention for persons living with chronic diseases who are also experiencing mental health concerns. This psychological intervention, called the Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders, has been extensively tested among persons with a primary diagnosis of a mental disorder. Studies testing this psychological intervention among persons with a primary diagnosis of a chronic disease, however, are much more limited. For these reasons, I will be examining whether this psychological intervention proves beneficial for persons living with a primary diagnosis of a chronic disease.
What is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of your work?
The most challenging aspect of my work is understanding the complex interactions between an individual’s experiences of living with a chronic disease and the broader Canadian healthcare system. While psychological interventions may improve the lives of specific individuals living with chronic diseases, system-level changes are needed to further prevent and mitigate the impact of chronic diseases on a wider scale. For example, within the Canadian healthcare system, physical health tends to be prioritized over mental health. So, for someone living with a chronic disease, they may be readily offered services to assist with the physical impacts of a chronic disease, but the mental impacts may not be addressed to the same degree. The integration of psychologists within primary care, for example, is one system-level change that could ensure that the mental health of persons living with chronic disease is also highlighted. While this aspect of my work is the most challenging, hearing about the implementation of those system-level changes—whether directly or indirectly related to my research—is the most rewarding aspect of my work.
How did you first become interested in this area of research? What inspires you to do the work that you do?
Seeing the effect that a chronic disease had on a loved one’s mental health inspired me to further my understanding of the intersection between mental and physical health. I became interested in the idea that the experience of physical health can be greatly influenced by psychological factors such as thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Thus, I became drawn to research examining the influence of psychological factors on physical health. Recognizing that psychosocial factors could be a target for interventions and, eager to gain relevant clinical skills, I moved to Saskatchewan to pursue a degree in Clinical Psychology. In my clinical training, I also witnessed the complex intersection of clinical and policy issues. It is here that I became passionate about understanding the role of the Canadian healthcare system in bridging the gap between mental and physical health.
Where is your research headed in the next five years?
I hope that my research will contribute to a better understanding of the role of psychological factors in the experience of living with chronic diseases. If the Unified Protocol for Transdiagnostic Treatment of Emotional Disorders is shown to be beneficial for persons living with chronic disease, the next steps would be to make it more available and accessible to more Saskatchewan residents who are living with chronic disease. The development of population-level psychological interventions that could prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases would be another fruitful avenue of research that I would like to pursue.
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