The ties that bind: interpersonal relationships as a source of risk and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic

Halifax, NS (May 7, 2020) Dr. Karen Blair, assistant professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University, and Dr. Kathryn Bell, assistant professor of psychology at Acadia University, are co-leading a study that will explore how Nova Scotians are coping during times of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nova Scotia prides itself on being a caring, connected province,” says Dr. Blair. “However, it is unknown whether these strong community connections are serving as sources of resilience during the pandemic, or if disruption of these strong ties is creating great hardship.”

Since the outbreak, both Drs. have been collecting data on mental health outcomes, optimal coping strategies, social connection, and experiences of interpersonal violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent grant from the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition will now allow Drs. Blair and Bell to merge and expand their two existing studies to focus specifically on Nova Scotians, including the LGBTQ+ community.

According to Dr. Blair, research is urgently needed to understand how Nova Scotians’ relational, mental, and physical well-being are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including among marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ Nova Scotians.

“LGBTQ+ Nova Scotians may be especially vulnerable to disruptions in their social networks,” she explains. “They tend to have fewer social supports, experience greater social isolation and loneliness, face higher levels of violence and victimization, encounter more rejection from family and friends, and are more likely to be living with a chronic health condition.”

In addition to identifying risks, Dr. Blair explains that by adopting a strengths-based approach to studying LGBTQ+ health they hope to highlight sources of resilience that may otherwise be overlooked.

“For example, the LGBTQ+ community may be able to call upon their shared history and experience of fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in coping with the current pandemic. In fact, we often find that what we learn about unique sources of resilience within marginalized communities can inform novel interventions for all of society.”

Building on the infrastructure of Dr. Blair’s initial diary study, the researchers will use survey methods to track the coping behaviours, relationship well-being, LGBTQ+ experiences and partner violence experiences of Nova Scotians to compare with other jurisdictions in North America. The team will then compile results in the form of three reports designed to support provincial decision-makers, LGBTQ+ organizations, and domestic violence organizations in Nova Scotia. They plan to share initial findings in June-July, with follow-up reports in July-August.

“Our goal is to provide timely information to provincial decision-makers that will help them understand how their constituents are coping with the pandemic, and what supports would be most valuable to enact,” says Dr. Bell.  “Our results will help inform Nova Scotia public health and allied professionals whose work during disease outbreaks directly impacts the well-being of individuals, couples, families and the LGBTQ+ community, providing evidence to guide optimal provincial responsiveness to the current outbreak, future COVID-19 waves and other disease outbreaks.”

Drs. Blair and Bell are actively recruiting participants for their study. Anyone 18 years of age or older is eligible to participate; those interested can sign up at:

This research project was funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Partners include the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Dalhousie University, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, IWK Health Centre, IWK Foundation, QEII Health Sciences Foundation, Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation, and Research Nova Scotia. The Coalition is dedicated to leading and fostering a research environment that engages our academic partnerships and responds to the current needs of Nova Scotians and our health care system, in addition to maintaining the expertise in innovative research, discovery science, population/social sciences, and health system improvement. This funding partnership provides the opportunity to catalyze COVID-19 related research initiatives and achieve collective social impact. For more information visit