ExpiWell’s Researcher in Focus: Dr. Jessica Lougheed Explores COVID-19's Impact on Sexual and Gender Minority Identities

ExpiWell’s Researcher in Focus: Dr. Jessica Lougheed Explores COVID-19's Impact on Sexual and Gender Minority Identities

Angelo Yanga
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About the Study 

In the complex tapestry of psychological research, an exciting study recently emerged, highlighting the unique experiences of sexual and gender minority (SGM) individuals in comparison to their cisgender heterosexual (CH) counterparts during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This research by Dr. Jessica Lougheed and colleagues, pivotal in its approach and findings, delves into the differential impacts of pandemic-induced stressors, offering a new perspective on the mental health challenges faced by young adults in these unprecedented times.

An image of Dr. Jessica Lougheed
(Photo from Instagram @@emotion.dynamics.lab) 

Background and Motivation

The genesis of this study lies in the existing body of knowledge about the heightened vulnerabilities SGM individuals face. 

Historically marginalized, these groups often encounter more daily stressors and are prone to mental health difficulties. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges that may exacerbate these disparities. This research aimed to understand these dynamics better, focusing on how the pandemic uniquely affected the stress experiences of SGM versus CH young adults. 

"We know that there are many social disparities that individuals with sexual and gender minority (SGM) identities experience compared to their cisgender heterosexual peers. These disparities include being at greater risk of experiencing stressors in daily life and being at greater risk of experiencing mental health difficulties. Some research from early on in the pandemic indicated that mental health disparities worsened for SGM individuals during this time," Dr. Lougheed shared. 

Methodological Innovation

Employing ExpiWell, an innovative experience sampling mobile app platform, the study gathered detailed data on the day-to-day experiences of university students over an extended period from February 2021 to March 2022. This period coincided with various pandemic stages, including lockdowns and the gradual lifting of restrictions, creating an unintentional natural experiment.

This unique setup provided a rare opportunity to examine the impact of these shifting conditions on these individuals' emotional well-being and stressors.

"Some cohorts of participants provided data on their daily experiences when provincial lockdown orders were in place, and the university was fully remote, whereas others participated after these restrictions had been lifted. This unintended feature of the data meant that we could dig into how changing pandemic restrictions might be related to students' experiences of stressors and emotions and whether these vary by SGM status," Dr. Lougheed added. 

Surprising Findings

Contrary to initial hypotheses, the study found that SGM students did not report experiencing more stressors in their daily lives than their CH peers. This revelation was made possible by the study's innovative use of survival analysis, a statistical approach adept at handling right-censored data. 

"We were surprised that SGM students were not at greater risk for experiencing the stressors (e.g., arguments, problems at school or work, health issues) we measured in daily life than their cisgender heterosexual peers. Importantly, we used a statistical approach called survival analysis that adequately accounts for a feature of event data common in daily diaries and other methods called "right censoring," shared by Dr. Lougheed

Right Censoring 

Right-censored data arises when some participants do not report certain events within the study's timeframe. Neglecting to adequately address this right censoring in our statistical methods can lead to skewed results. This method addresses the misconception that the absence of reported events implies their non-occurrence. 

“The findings highlight the need to better understand when, where, and how SGM individuals face more daily life stressors than CH individuals, prompting a call for more nuance about the stress experiences of these groups,” Dr Lougheed explained

LGBT Flag

Insights into the Struggles of Sexual and Gender Minorities

This study offers a nuanced understanding of the social disparities SGM individuals face. The absence of significant differences in reported stressors between SGM and CH groups suggests that factors other than those measured, such as daily microaggressions or societal intolerance, might be at play. 

Additionally, the specific demographic of the sample - primarily from a university in British Columbia, Canada, known for its progressive stance towards SGM individuals - might have influenced the results. These findings highlight the complexity of SGM experiences and underscore the need for more inclusive and varied research methodologies.

Study Limitations and Future Directions

While the study offers groundbreaking insights, it has limitations. The predominantly White and domestic student composition of the sample may limit the generalizability of the findings. 

Furthermore, the absence of certain stressor types, such as discrimination, in the measurement tools contributed to the null findings. Future research in this area could benefit from more diverse samples and the inclusion of a broader range of stressor types to capture the complete spectrum of experiences faced by SGM individuals.

The ExpiWell Experience with Dr. Jessica Lougheed 

Participant Engagement and Data Collection Experience With ExpiWell 

The ease of use of the ExpiWell app for researchers and participants significantly enhanced the study's success. 

"ExpiWell is so easy to use in programming and scheduling surveys. Participants also find it easy to enroll in studies without needing too much time or intervention from researchers. I am also really impressed by how quickly the ExpiWell team responds when I have questions.," the lead researcher, Dr. Lougheed, commented. 

This ease of use translated into a higher response rate and more accurate data, underscoring the importance of user-friendly research tools in modern psychological studies.

The Future of Psychological Research

This study stands as a beacon in psychological research, challenging preconceived notions about pandemic-induced stress experiences among different social groups. By employing innovative methodologies and tools like ExpiWell, it provides a more nuanced understanding of the varied impacts of COVID-19 on young adults' mental health. 

"I am passionate about researchers learning more about right-censored data and methods like survival analysis so that we can make better use of our event-based data from ambulatory methods and make better inferences all around—this is how we can be more confident in our understanding of some types of social disparities," shared by Dr. Lougheed. 

As we continue to navigate the aftermath of the pandemic, studies like this are crucial in guiding effective mental health interventions and policies, particularly for marginalized groups like SGM individuals.

Invitation to the Research Community 

The ExpiWell team is excited to have helped and facilitated research by Dr. Jessica Lougheed and colleagues. We continue to work toward innovating and enhancing scientific discovery. We invite you to explore our Journal Publications section for a deeper dive into a range of insightful research studies and to discover how ExpiWell has facilitated critical experience sampling and ecological momentary assessment data collection. 

If you're interested in harnessing the power of ExpiWell for your research needs, we're here to assist you. Don't hesitate to reach out to us for any queries or support. You can contact us or email sales@expiwell.com to learn more about our platform and app. 

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