This month’s Thriving Faculty member is Zach Walsh, Associate Professor in the department of Psychology at UBC Okanagan.
Thriving Faculty is a monthly column that highlights UBC faculty members who exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into their classrooms, research, departments and communities.
Based on your experiences, please describe the relationship between student mental health & wellbeing and learning
I believe that students perform at their best when they feel safe and appreciated. Establishing a comfortable and accepting environment in our lab helps students take the kind of chances that allow for personal and scientific discoveries. It can be a challenge at a high-stakes, competitive institution such as UBC for students to feel that they belong and are valued. I let students know that their wellbeing is important for its own sake and for the health of the lab.
Are they any specific initiatives and/or research you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
Improving mental health is one of the most common motives reported by those who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes. People looking to address mental health problems face considerable barriers, including stigma, and those who use cannabis to treat mental health face a double stigma. As cannabis is being reintroduced as a medicine, research that examines how cannabis compares to other treatments is essential to allow Canadians to make informed decisions about their health. Our hope is that talking and learning more about the use of cannabis for mental health will help to refine treatments and reduce stigma. The freedom to make personal choices in an environment free of superstition and shame promotes mental health and wellbeing.
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as faculty?
I try to find projects that allow me to work off-campus with community groups that aren’t directly related to academia. I like the variety and it helps get me out of the office. I try to have something really good for lunch whenever I can. I also try to focus on process rather than outcomes. I avoid the news and choose my music. I’m learning to ask for – and accept – help, support and advice.
Zach Walsh, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at UBC, Director of the Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use lab, and a registered clinical psychologist. Ongoing projects include several studies of the therapeutic use of cannabis, including a recently initiated clinical trial of cannabis for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Zach has presented his research to diverse audiences, including the Uruguayan Department of Health and the Canadian House of Commons. Zach’s research on substance use, mental health, and personality has been supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Health Canada, and others.