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Psychosocial Epidemiology

The Psychosocial Epidemiology Program considers the complex ways in which social factors interact with the psychological and biological determinants of health, particularly in the areas of mental health and substance use.

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Considering the complexities of how social factors interact with the psychological and biological determinants of health

Advancing Health clinicians and scientists have had a considerable impact on the health and well-being of marginalized populations, particularly those in urban environments. Critical to the success of improving health outcomes for these populations is the careful consideration of the complex ways in which social factors interact with the psychological and biological determinants of health.


Publications per Year


Areas of Focus


Multidisciplinary Scientists

About the Program

Advancing Health clinicians and Scientists have had a considerable impact on the health and well-being of marginalized populations, particularly in the area of mental health and substance use. Critical to the success of improving health outcomes for these populations is the careful consideration of the complex ways in which social factors interact with the psychological and biological determinants of health.

This integrated approach enables our clinicians and scientists to focus their collective expertise on the development of interventions that can be adapted to accommodate the real-world complexity of groups experiencing increased risks due to structural vulnerability and pre-existing health and social inequities.

Additional Information

Populations of focus include youth and adults with mental health and substance use challenges, people of Indigenous heritage, homeless and precariously housed youth and adults, men with a history of incarceration, and other marginalized populations in Canada and abroad. Current projects include a participatory research project with formerly incarcerated men, mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and addressing burnout in long-term care staff.

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Examples of Our Projects

Some of the current projects underway from the Advancing Health Psychosocial Epidemiology Program include:

COVID-19–related Projects

  • Exploring complementary approaches to mental wellness and resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

The current COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of people experiencing mental health symptoms while significantly decreasing the availability of in-person mental health services. Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Joseph Puyat is currently leading this project to identify evidence-based complementary approaches to promoting mental wellness and resilience among British Columbians during pandemics and beyond.

Funder: 2020 CIHR Knowledge Synthesis grant, 2021 MSFHR Convening and Collaborating grant

Publication: A rapid review of home-based activities that can promote mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic (Link)

  • Assessing the mental health impacts of COVID-19: A national survey study

Evidence on the population-level mental health impacts of COVID-19 is beginning to amass. However, to date, there are significant gaps in our understandings of whose mental health is most impacted, how the pandemic is contributing to widening mental health inequities, and the coping strategies being used to sustain mental health. This ongoing repeated cross-sectional monitoring survey led by Dr. Emily Jenkins (UBC Nursing) and Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Anne Gadermann is a unique collaboration between academic researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a national mental health advocacy organization. Recent publications focus on examining the mental health impacts of COVID-19 in groups identified as experiencing increased risks due to structural vulnerability and pre-existing health and social inequities.

Funder: Canadian Mental Health Association

Publications: A portrait of the early and differential mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada: Findings from the first wave of a nationally representative cross-sectional survey (In press at Preventive Medicine)

  • Examining the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on family mental health in Canada: findings from a national cross-sectional study. (Link)
  • Use of Asynchronous Virtual Mental Health Resources for COVID-19 Pandemic–Related Stress Among the General Population in Canada: Cross-sectional Survey Study. (Link)
  • Trauma at the Root: Exploring Paths to Healing with formerly incarcerated men

The majority of incarcerated men have experienced trauma in their lives. The experience of trauma is often a major determinant of substance use, mental illness, or violence that leads to incarceration and negatively impacts men’s ability to successfully reintegrate into the community upon release. Despite evidence on the link between trauma and incarceration, little has been done to determine how to help men identify and manage their experiences of trauma. This 5-year project led by Program Head Dr. Chris Richardson will engage men with a history of incarceration in a participatory health research project to improve our understanding of how these men perceive the effects of trauma and its relationship to substance use and related health-seeking behaviour. The project also aims to develop and pilot test a trauma education toolkit to support the integration of trauma and resiliency-informed care into correctional and community-based organizations working with men who have experienced incarceration. A short film and art exhibit from the photovoice component of this project can be viewed here.

Funded by the Health Canada Substance Use and Addictions Program and the Vancouver Foundation.

  • Reducing Burnout and Caregiving Stress among Interdisciplinary Staff in Long Term Caregiving

Building on previously completed work, this project led by Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Joseph Puyat is developing and testing specific strategies that will help prevent or minimize stress and burnout among interdisciplinary care staff in health care settings where death and dying have increasingly become a common feature of the workplace environment.

Funder: 2017 and 2020 WorkSafeBC Innovation at Work grant

Publications: Exposure to Deaths and Dying and Risks of Burnout among Long-Term Care Staff: A Cross-Sectional Survey (Link)

Death in Long-Term Care: Focus Groups and Interviews Identify Strategies to Alleviate Staff Burnout (Link)

  • The Cedar Project

The Cedar Project is a community-based research initiative that addresses hepatitis C and HIV vulnerabilities among young Aboriginal people who use illicit drugs in three cities in British Columbia. On a global scale, the historical trauma associated with the process of colonizing Indigenous people is commonly considered to be the explanation for the profound health disparities they experience all over the world. To our knowledge, The Cedar Project is the first Indigenous “at-risk” young people’s cohort in North America. Drs. Patricia Spittal and Martin Schechter are the co-principal investigators for this project.

  • Intersecting disparities in mental health

Sex and gender combine with other social categories that may lead to inequities in access to mental health services. This combination can lead to further disparities in mental health outcomes. In this project, Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Joseph Puyat is examining these intersecting disparities in mental health services such as depression care.

Publication: Physician Incentives and Sex/Gender Differences in Depression Care: An Interrupted Time Series Analysis (Link)

  • The Addictions and Concurrent Disorders Group

The Addictions and Concurrent Disorders Group at Advancing Health, led by Dr. Michael Krausz, the Providence Health Care/UBC B.C. Leadership Chair in Addiction Research conducts research that investigates correlations between social determinants of health and childhood trauma, mental illness, and addiction. The catalytic relationship between early life trauma, substance use disorders, and other mental illnesses is explored through a number of research projects. Learn more at

  • Characterizing the Potential Transplant Tourist in Canada: A Survey on Transplant Tourism among Canadians with Kidney Disease

Despite the fact that travelling to another country to purchase an organ for transplantation is illegal, an increasing number of Canadians are using this method to secure kidney transplants. This practice, known as transplant tourism, is denounced by the WHO and has serious social and medical risks, including the exploitation of the world’s poor and an increased chance of serious infections.

A team, including Advancing Health Scientists Drs. Jagbir Gill (PI), John Gill, Adeera Levin, and Chris Richardson, is investigating the factors associated with the decision to consider engaging in transplant tourism, including how potential “tourists” understand the risks and benefits, and the perceived barriers to local donor transplantations. To gather this information, Dr. Gill and his team have surveyed over 500 British Columbians with kidney failure about their awareness, understanding, and intention to engage in transplant tourism as well as perceived barriers to accessing local donors. Little is known about this troubling practice and this research will help us understand both why it is becoming more popular and how we might improve access to local transplant donors.

  • Inner City Youth Program

The Inner City Youth Program treats homeless and vulnerably-housed youth and young adults aged 16 to 24 with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness and/or addiction. The Program aims to improve health outcomes for this vulnerable population by providing youth with access to health care, housing, education, employment counselling, vocational training, and support services. Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Steve Mathias and his team are an interdisciplinary group providing a comprehensive care experience. Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Chris Richardson is the program’s Research Lead.

  • The Health and Housing in Transition Study (HHiT)

The Health and Housing in Transition Study (HHiT) is a longitudinal study assessing the health and housing status of homeless and vulnerably housed single adults in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Toronto.

Dr. Anita Palepu, the lead investigator for the Vancouver site, and her fellow researchers explored whether changes in housing status are associated with changes in mental and physical health, alcohol and drug use, social supports, and utilization of health care services.

Data collection was completed in February 2014 and the project has now transitioned to the analysis phase. Researchers hope to identify risk factors and community, interpersonal, and individual-level resources associated with the onset of homelessness among vulnerably-housed individuals, and the attainment of stable housing among homeless individuals. Additionally, they hope to determine the rate at which homeless individuals achieve residential stability and the rate at which vulnerably housed participants become homeless over a two-year follow-up.

  • At Home/Chez Soi

At Home/Chez Soi was a four-year, multi-city research project. It examined the effectiveness of a Housing First approach, combined with appropriate health care and supports, as a way to combat homelessness. The final report was released to the public in April 2014. Findings indicated that a Housing First strategy could effectively be implemented in various Canadian settings with a positive impact on those who are homeless and living with mental health issues. The research also demonstrated that Housing First is a cost-effective strategy, particularly for those who have frequent contact with health and social services.

Advancing Health Scientists Drs. Jim Frankish and Michael Krausz (along with Dr. Julian Somers) were co-principal investigators on the study, and Advancing Health Scientists Drs. Verena Strehlau and Anita Palepu were co-investigators. Each study site had a particular area of focus; the Vancouver site of At Home concentrated on people experiencing addiction and complex concurrent disorders.

Since 2013, Vancouver investigators have been conducting a naturalistic observational cohort study as a follow-up to At Home. They are monitoring participants’ mental and physical health, substance use patterns, and housing status as they transition from the study. They will also evaluate the current system’s capacity to support this population. Funding for this project comes from the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

  • B.C. Adolescent Substance Use Survey (BASUS)

The use of tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana by teenagers continues to pose a significant threat to the health and safety of many young Canadians. Recent national surveys indicate that 15 percent of Canadian teens smoke tobacco; one-third of all teens have tried marijuana more than once, with about 8 percent of teens reporting marijuana use at least once a week. Just over 44 percent of teens reported drinking 1 to 3 times per month, with an additional 17 percent of teens aged 15 to 17 drinking 1 to 3 times a week or more.

Despite extensive prevention efforts, the use of these substances appears to be a normalized part of adolescence. The goal of the B.C. Adolescent Substance Use Survey (BASUS) was to investigate patterns in the progression of substance use, using an internet-based survey, in approximately 10,000 adolescents as they progress through the first 3 years of secondary school.

Researchers grouped adolescents into different trajectories of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use and then examined how the level and influence of known risk factors (e.g., sensation-seeking and peer substance use) change as adolescents enter and then progress through high school. The information gained from BASUS improved the researchers’ understanding of the determinants of individual differences in the development of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use. The findings were shared with health promotion experts and school district supervisors to inform local drug education and health promotion activities. Dr. Pamela Ratner and Advancing Health Scientist Dr. Chris Richardson were the principal investigators.

You can read more about BASUS here.

Learn More About the Program

Want to learn more about our Psychosocial Epidemiology Program? Read related stories here.

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Research Programs

Advancing Health Scientists work across a broad range of disciplines, from health economics to personalized medicine, to decision sciences and much more.

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