Dr. Daniel Cox
Associate Professor, Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education
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Interpersonal Nuance and Social Supports’ Impact on Mental Health and Wellbeing
Q&A with Dr. Daniel Cox
What makes support services effective?
Social support is often conceptualized as people’s beliefs that others are there for them. An example of emotional social support is someone who will listen to you when you are having a bad day. An example of tangible social support is someone will who will give you a ride to work if your car breaks down.
Interpersonal perceptions, such as clients’ perceptions about their contributions to others and their sense of belonging, are some of the major factors that predict or inhibit suicide. Accordingly, a lot of social support research focuses on people’s beliefs about the support they will receive from others.
Interpersonal interactions are dynamic, nuanced and endlessly fascinating. Through examining various aspects of a conversation between a counsellor and a client, such as specific approaches at specific times, we can help facilitate healthy changes, such as reduced suicidal ideation, reduced distress, clarity on next steps, and so on.
To effectively help clients, counsellors have to be responsive to who and where clients are, while also noticing clients’ responses and adapting their approach. A key part of understanding clients includes not making assumptions about them; if a client is part of a particular group, that may or may not have any bearing on what they are experiencing or how they can be helped.
What role does technology play in preventative and early intervention approaches?
Technology lends a hand in helping connect people with support. While it is not surprising to learn that younger people are more comfortable with chat-based digital crisis intervention channels, such as text or instant messaging, it is interesting to learn that people who use digital support channels tend to also be more distressed, have more severe suicidal ideation, and are often from marginalized communities.
Clients who identify with certain cultural groups may feel there is a stigma around seeking mental health support, and this cultural norm may inhibit their receptiveness to therapy. The sense of conversational autonomy retained through digital support channels can help relieve hesitation and elevate the willingness of people to reach out for help. These types of lessons can help organizations improve their services.
What crisis intervention tools are helpful?
Regardless of whether primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention methods are introduced, a consistently helpful and effective aspect of crisis intervention is the ease of access to support.
For example, free chat-based support that can be accessed anywhere from any device with an internet connection provides ease of access to support, while simultaneously removing the barrier of having to find a private space to call for support. As another example, placing a phone with a direct connection to a support line in a space where suicide attempts are often made makes it easier for people to seek immediate help, when needed.
Reframing who and how to help people in distress is vital to supporting more people. While mental health professionals have assessment and support expertise, caring about people around you, checking in on them and, if needed, connecting them with resources are actions we can all take.
What inspires you?
Psychotherapy is significantly and widely scientifically investigated. However, relatively, research on clients who use suicide crisis services and how we can help clients more effectively is currently limited. The exponential benefits of helping fill this gap inspires my work.
While psychotherapy is a resource-intensive practice that is not set up for the masses, the principles of psychotherapy can be applied to an infinite number of contexts. Globally, over a million people in suicidal crisis reach out to crisis centers each year, the potential to help so many people is incredibly compelling.
How can education build a more just and equitable society?
“The goal of our work is to understand the helping process better so that for the tens of thousands of Canadians who contact crisis centers, who are in suicidal crisis every year, that those who are on the other end can be more effective, can be more helpful.” – Dr. Daniel Cox