In the 6th episode of Research Chat Season 2, Tyler Pacheco, a PhD student and social psychologist who is working on the research team exploring “Overcoming the unseen: The effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the mental health of Canadian-based workers" is interviewed by Eric Story, a doctoral student in the department of history and a historian of infectious disease in the 20th century. Both researchers study respiratory diseases in different contexts and time periods.
The episode features:
Shawna Reibling 00:04
Welcome to the second season of Research Chat. In this season graduate students share their challenges and their details of their research work. In this episode Eric story will interview Tyler Pacheco.
Shawna Reibling 00:22
Eric Story, pronouns he/him, is a historian of infectious diseases in the 20th century. He is also the Outreach Manager of the Laurier Center for the Study of Canada. Eric is in his fourth year of study with Dr. Mark Humphries at Laurier.
Tyler Pacheco, pronouns he/him is a research theme ambassador for Laurier's Research Strength in the area of psychological and social determinants of health and well being. He is in his second year of study with Dr. Nancy Kocovski and Dr. Simon Coulombe.
He is a social psychologist who is working on a research team exploring "overcoming the unseen", the effects of COVID-19 crisis on the mental health of Canadian based workers. This project aims to determine how factors related to the COVID 19 outbreak, especially social distancing measures like working from home, impact individual's mental health, family relationships, finances and overall wellbeing. They also seek to provide recommendations on workplace policies and government legislation that could minimize the negative impacts.
Both of you are studying respiratory diseases in different contexts and time periods. So it's very fitting that you're both able to interview each other. Welcome to Research Chat, and I look forward to hearing more about your research areas. Welcome Eric and Tyler.
Eric Story 01:35
Tyler Pacheco 01:36
Eric Story 01:37
So Tyler, I'm curious in your research, when you first came to your project for the first time, I'm curious, what did you set out to discover?
Tyler Pacheco 01:46
To kind of start off with the issues that are currently found within the current literature that we have stems back to all the ways with the research regarding past pandemics. And there's a lot of research that exemplifies how workers are impacted by crises, more specifically pandemics and epidemics. But even though these pieces of information are found, we don't know a lot between pandemics and what we can learn between what are the similarities, what are the differences between how workers are impacted by different pandemics, and around the world. To stem from that into the current COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the research not only looks at a particular occupational group, that being a lot of the research looks at health care workers, but it also looks at just the negative aspects of well being.
So to what I wanted to set out to do was not only to look at how COVID-19 is similar or different to past pandemics and how it affects workers, generally speaking, but to also look at how COVID-19 is impacting Canadian workers while being both positively and negatively, or rather, looking at how COVID-19 is impacting both the positive and negative aspects of wellbeing.
Eric Story 02:53
I think one of the interesting parts is a more well rounded understanding of wellbeing. So how did you set out to answer those types of questions about wellbeing and workers existence and participation in the economy during pandemics? And this pandemic in particular?
Tyler Pacheco 03:09
Yeah, definitely. To look at past pandemics, we're currently conducting a scoping review, which looks at all of the past literature (peer reviewed), that looks at how pandemics are impacting workers wellbeing. And through that process, we have reviewed over 2000 articles that explore this relationship and we aim to look at the similarities and differences found between that and the current research that we have on COVID. In relation to how COVID-19 is specifically impacting Canadian workers.
So we created a survey one week after social distancing policies were implemented within Canada and we asked over 1000 workers to take part in this survey. So, one to two weeks after these social distancing policies start to take root within Canada, these workers filled out a bunch of questionnaires and surveys related to their experiences during the pandemic. And we followed these participants over the next couple of months to see how their well being and other aspects of their life is also impacted by the pandemic.
Eric Story 04:11
You talked about looking at the similarities and differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and past pandemics. Can you speak to some of those similarities and differences that were illustrated during your preliminary research?
Tyler Pacheco 04:24
Yeah, definitely. We're still in the data extraction phase but, there is definitely some parallels between the pandemics and, more specifically, the research that has been conducted within these pandemics. It's evident that there's a lot of research that has come out in relation to SARS, and there's some in relation to Ebola for example, a large proponent, however, is on COVID-19. Probably just because of the actual impact that it's had globally, and the amount of researchers that have shifted gears to study these impacts of the pandemic on workers well being but it's evident that a lot of the research that's being conducted is within East Asian countries as well within specific occupational groups.
So in particular, a lot of the research has been conducted on healthcare workers just because they are our frontlines. And it's evident that there's a lot of research that looks at other occupational groups within more diverse regions aside from East Asian countries as well as North America.
Eric Story 05:26
Given the unique nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wonder if you and your colleagues have found it difficult to make comparisons between and across different pandemics? Like I said, given how truly unique and society upending this pandemic has been compared to past ones?
Tyler Pacheco 05:46
Yeah, definitely, I think when it comes to the COVID 19 pandemic, and comparing it to past ones. The type of review that we're doing is a scoping review so, it just looks like the scope of the research that has been done within these different contexts. And while we're able to quickly draw on some of these comparisons that are found a lot of illustrating like an increase of negative wellbeing, for example, and the different factors such as age, gender, and how that plays out into people's wellbeing related outcomes, we aren't able to say for certain.
I think when it comes to looking at the differences between pandemics, and the similarities that are found, it's a little bit hard to make conclusive parallels just because of the nature of these pandemics, the different severity of each of them, and just how spread it is. It's been a very long time since we've had a pandemic that has impacted workers to the extent of which COVID-19 is impacting us. And comparing different cultural areas, as well as compounded with different pandemics and epidemics, it is a little bit hard to make these cross comparisons, I would say. But there is definitely some evidence to indicate that more generally speaking, a lot of the research has been done on negative indicators and it's evident that these unprecedented times are linked with increase of negative wellbeing.
Eric Story 07:08
Is there anything that's jumped out at you in some of this preliminary research, Tyler, that struck you as maybe surprising that you hadn't thought might emerge in some of your preliminary secondary research or even when you first began to think and envision this project?
Tyler Pacheco 07:26
Yeah, definitely. I think when it comes to pandemic related research, and just research in general, a lot of the ways that we look at trends within society, and even within the context of the pandemic is, we take a sample, we run statistics and report on the general trends associated with that sample. And what I tried to do within my research is use a couple of different methods, primarily statistical, that groups individuals based off of the similarities and differences found in the responses. And through that, I think one unexpected finding in particular is the amount of realities that workers are experiencing within the COVID-19 pandemic, and the different experiences that workers are experiencing within the COVID-19 pandemic, and how some of them are found to even be flourishing.
So by using different indicators of well being, we found that 19.3% of our sample, just three to four weeks after social distancing policies were implemented within Canada had higher indicators of positive well being and lowered indicators of negative well being. And even a large percentage even had a mix of positive and negative indicators. And what I mean by that is, when looking at both positive and negative indicators of well being 36.4% can have higher negative well being but normal indicators of positive well being, or the opposite, where some individuals are found to have higher positive well being, but regular levels of negative well being. So that was pretty interesting.
Eric Story 08:59
I think it's a really interesting thing that you bring up because I think when we talk about the pandemic, we almost always only focus on the negative impacts and I think that's understandable, given how traumatic it really has been. But could you speak, Tyler, to some of the reasons why these folks that you're talking to are indicating that they're flourishing, or at least having experiencing more positive things than they would have been if the pandemic hadn't happened?
Tyler Pacheco 09:28
Yeah, definitely. I think there's a lot of different reasons why some individuals may be flourishing. I think, even though - and don't get me wrong, the pandemic has brought on a lot of strife for workers - but some have found different ways to flourish within these contexts. Some have even reported that by receiving CERB then trying to start a new company, for example, or a lot of people are illustrating this post traumatic growth that even though they're going through this event of uncertainty or this context, which is characterized by this uncertainty, a lot of them are positively growing from that. And that can just be from the regular strife they're facing, or the increased resilience that is indirectly experienced because of this pandemic.
Eric Story 10:12
So you've said to me that you're in the data extraction stage, Tyler, what are the next steps? Is it just continuing extracting the data? Are you thinking about writing yet? Or is it still some time, you're going to need to pull together the data that you need to begin that writing process?
Tyler Pacheco 10:29
Yeah, definitely. So the scoping review is the first chapter of my dissertation. And it has been taking a while just because with the process, I believe the approximate final number of articles that we are retaining is around 150, to 186. So with that, we do have to extract all the findings related to workers' wellbeing in these contexts from all of those 186. So currently, we are drafting that into a database. And then I'm going to be reading a manuscript to share these similarities and differences between pandemics and epidemics. That way, a lot of researchers can use that as a tool or a foundation in understanding how there's similarities and differences found between pandemics and epidemics.
And the next steps are underway in that, now that we have a better understanding of the similarities and differences found between past pandemics and COVID-19, I'm going to be switching gears to something a little bit more data based. So using the findings of our COVID-19 study, in order to exemplify some of those different realities that workers are experiencing within the context of COVID-19. And to use the actual findings from the review, take draw on parallels, as well as illustrate more similarities and differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and past ones.
Eric Story 11:53
Would you say that the COVID-19 pandemic in particular has changed your dissertation project at any point?
Tyler Pacheco 12:01
In the beginning, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't really changed the research I have done. I started my PhD at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, in fall of 2020, and it has just been something that sticks with me in my whole PhD career so far. And even though I started my PhD in the context of a pandemic, and primarily research how workers are impacted by this pandemic, I think the COVID-19 pandemic has... always alters the way from conducting research within its actual context as because there are so many events that take place during this process in which I'm still trying to collect data.
For example, the recent omicron variant that is starting to cause an outbreak in different regions, it's definitely something that we always take into consideration as to whether or not we should change measures within our survey to capture these feelings related to these different variants or taking into consideration what this means within the regular life of a worker; do they have to start telecommuting more? Are they able to get social support in real life? Or are we going to be still on Zoom for the next couple of months, and so on.
Eric Story 13:15
I think like all of us that are conducting research that sounds like the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially infiltrated all aspects of the research experience. I know that I can speak to it. Clearly, you can Tyler as well, I'm sure everybody that's going to be on the Research Chat podcast this season will similarly speak to the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic may not have changed their dissertation project, but fundamentally shaped it.
So just to wrap things up with a few final questions for you, Tyler, I'm wondering if anything in your research has given you any indications of how societies or individuals living through a pandemic can transition to a post pandemic world?
Tyler Pacheco 13:58
Definitely. It's this normal way of living is this really interesting thing I think that has sprung up because the COVID-19 pandemic and people always revisit it throughout the pandemic itself. And I think a lot of individuals view "normal way of living" as a COVID-19-free-world, while other individuals expect that COVID-19 will never truly leave but we'll live alongside it and go about our days of acknowledging that'll still be there. Whether or not it takes into account that people are still going to be telecommuting, or whether or not we're actually going to be able to live our lives the way that we used to prior to the pandemic. So I think there's a lot of different government based things that go into how we're going to be transitioning back to a normal way of living.
We have seen things such as social distancing policies and more recently, when relative to the beginning of the pandemic. We now have third boosters coming out, as well as vaccine passports and daily check ins regarding our symptoms, if any, and those are all different and things that are helping us get back to normal way of living. But being mindful as to ourselves and how that impacts everyone else, I think goes into how we're going to be recovering into a quote unquote, normal way of living.
Eric Story 15:17
You mentioned the government, Tyler, and their role during the pandemic in particular, and enforcing things like masks and implementing vaccine passports and promoting booster dose campaigns. But I wonder, do you believe, maybe you can speak to this in the context of your research, does the government at all have a role in transitioning people back into a post pandemic world?
Tyler Pacheco 15:40
Definitely. I think what you're saying there in part that we're enforcing these different things allows us to curb this rate of infection so that we don't have to go back to a way of living that's characterized by lockdowns and staying at home. And I think that the government, whether or not that's provincial or federal, does have a really big part in how we transition back to our normal way of living. How that looks depends on the state of the world and how variants develop.
Right now we have the Omicron variant, and we're starting to see this closure of schools and stuff like that, which is run by the state or enforced by the state. So the state does play a role in how we transition back to normal way of living. What that looks like, is always a day by day thing I find, I think thus far, we have seen a lot of all the different things that the government has done, such as the vaccine passports and stuff like that, which, which theoretically, would allow us to normally integrate within society. I think it's just a waiting game to see what the state of the world is and how the government is actually going to help guide us.
Eric Story 16:47
Does the government have a role in transitioning people back into a post pandemic world, when it comes to workers wellbeing? Just to tie it back into your research.
Tyler Pacheco 17:00
In terms of the well being aspect, it's maybe a little bit harder to empirically say how the government plays a role within well being. I mean, there's always resources that kind of goes into how the government helps workers, whether that be financially or emotionally or wellbeing based, but it's a little bit hard to say, based off of data.
Eric Story 17:22
Tyler, is there anything that we haven't yet discussed? Or I haven't asked you yet that you think's important to share, given our conversations about pandemics and epidemics in the past and present?
Tyler Pacheco 17:33
Yeah, definitely. I think one thing I would like to include is basically how the pandemic has shaped our wellbeing, workers are in particular, that these different factors exists in different areas in our life, a lot of them are found closer to us, whether that be the actual characteristics that we hold, such as this inherent ability to bounce back, which is often referred to as character strength or trait resilience. But there's also a lot of other ones that are found close to us, such as family, friends and social support.
And even going outwards, we have some research that indicates that trust in healthcare institutions, for example, does positively impact one's well being and so on. So, it's with all this to say that there's a lot of different factors within our lives that shape our response to the pandemic and how that in turn affects our well being. And it's just something to take into consideration, I think, within research.
Eric Story 18:30
I think that's a great answer, Tyler, but I'm wondering particularly about how people's well beings improve when there's an increase in trust in institutions, right, which governments can very much have a role to play if they want to, it does kind of speak to that question about the role of government transitioning into a post pandemic world and finding ways to ensure people's well being is improved or whatever.
Tyler Pacheco 18:54
I think it depends on how you phrase it just because the finding of like trust in healthcare institutions I find is not an objective role of the state, but rather people's perception of the state.
Eric Story 19:06
Okay, so Tyler, thanks so much for taking the time today to speak to me and answer my questions. And hopefully, at some point in the post pandemic future, Shawna will bring us back and we can reflect, perhaps more fully, on what the post pandemic world looks like and hopefully workers well being is at a strong point.
Tyler Pacheco 19:25
Yeah, definitely. Thanks for having me. I can't wait to hear about your research related to how the tuberculosis pandemic has impacted individuals.
Shawna Reibling 19:41
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