Post-pandemic wellbeing for men and families


In this years Movember discussion, Dr Christine Wekerle from McMaster University joins us again to discuss mens mental health, masculinity, and family well being.


This episode features discussions of domestic abuse, sexual violence and suicidal ideation, among other topics. Listener discretion is advised.


Read Dr Wekerles original research :


Find more about the JoyPop app here


Listen to her past interviews here and here


Image Source: Adobe Stock Images / Robert Goodall





The following transcript is automatically generated



00:00:05 Will Mountford 

Hello. I’m Will. Welcome to researchpod 

00:00:08 Will Mountford 

It is easy to forget that efforts are to breakdown the culture of silence around men’s health and men’s well-being is a relatively recent endeavour. Initiatives like Movember put the physical and mental health of men on full facial display, but the psychological roots of masculinity, trauma and violence run deep. 

00:00:27 Will Mountford 

Men’s suffering rarely exists in isolation from the people around them, and modern life comes with a great many problems to bear. In this episode we are joined again by Doctor Christine Wekerle, who has for the last eight years served as editor in chief of the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, and is also the newly appointed Co editor in chief of the journal Child Protection and Practice. 

00:00:47 Will Mountford 

She is also guest editor on a special issue of the journal Digital Health dealing with mental health innovations for youth resilience, and more information about her joy Pop app can be obtained through 

00:01:00 Will Mountford 

Content warnings for this episode include suicidal ideation, sexual violence, domestic violence, and child sexual exploitation. 

00:01:12 Will Mountford 

And joining us once again from McMaster University doctor Christine Wekerle. Hello there. 

00:01:16 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Hi will lovely to speak with you again. 

00:01:19 Will Mountford 

Thanks very much for having us back for anyone who might have missed your previous episodes with us. Could you tell us quickly a bit about yourself, your research and where the work that you do fits within a broader research context? 

00:01:31 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Sure, absolutely. So my PhD is in clinical psychology. 

00:01:37 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Me, I really started out wanting to do interventions that help people, especially young people, and so the areas that I went to work in all surround violence prevention. So that includes child maltreatment, impacts, adolescent. 

00:01:57 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Meaning violence. 

00:01:59 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Adult intimate partner violence and that has broadened out to some of the understanding of structural violence in working with Turtle Island, as North America is known, indigenous populations and particularly I’ve worked with. 

00:02:21 Dr Christine Wekerle 

The Six Nations of the Grand River. 

00:02:25 Will Mountford 

Well, the last time we spoke was freshly in the shadow of the pandemic three years ago. Could I ask, I mean, how you’ve been doing personally and professionally and what shifts you’ve seen in interventional research over that societal shift that came in the? 

00:02:41 Will Mountford 

Last few years. 

00:02:42 Dr Christine Wekerle 

You know, whenever you have adversity, including violence or otherwise adversities, you will always have resilience. That is one response to adversity with the COVID onset, for me personally. 

00:02:56 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Honey, I very quickly went to the the resilience switch. And you know, I put out a deep breathing exercise on my Instagram just for anyone who wanted to see a, you know, a strategy to calm yourself. 

00:03:16 Dr Christine Wekerle 

This kind of resilience routine or practice that you could, you know, without any money or professional assistance. You could follow this kind of deep breathing routine. 

00:03:26 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And I had a child who was really quite anxious about the COVID. And as many young people were feeling high anxiety around. What is this? Do I die from it? These kinds of things. And so part of our. 

00:03:46 Dr Christine Wekerle 

There’s daily resilience routine during the COVID pandemic was actually painting. We both enjoy painting and so we would do some painting every day. 

00:03:58 Will Mountford 

In a professional sense, looking at child protection, research and child protection professionals, how have you coped with doing a lot more remote work? Being isolated from not just individuals? Research it’s colleagues that are working with, but some of the communities that you might otherwise be developing interventions with? 

00:04:19 Will Mountford 

And how our professionals looking after themselves. 

00:04:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Yeah, I think there was a big scramble at the outset of COVID because all of a sudden pulses weren’t really firm urgency, preparedness in place. 

00:04:34 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So there was a scramble on how can we creatively still reach our clients? How do we make the zoom or online environment or you know, teams, whatever your platform was, how do we ensure that it’s first secure and private? 

00:04:55 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And then secondly, how can we add more personal touches so it feels more like a real connection? And so there was I think believe you know people were very creative about that. 

00:05:12 Dr Christine Wekerle 

You know, there was, as you would do in a normal group therapeutic setting, you focus a bit more on Ice Breakers and those kinds of things. I think a smile goes a long way in person or online and telling jokes still works. So I think there was a lot of shifting. 

00:05:32 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Trying to figure it out, recognizing that you know, teens especially do need to connect with teens. Some of say for instance child welfare, youth would say their only friends were at school. 

00:05:48 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So once they were in the online environment. 

00:05:52 Dr Christine Wekerle 

They weren’t in that social connection space, and we know social connection is one of the strongest resilience factors. So I think people are adaptable. 

00:06:06 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And there are also limits and it takes some creative problem solving to problem solve around that. I think professionals did get there. 

00:06:15 Dr Christine Wekerle 

But you know, there are many trends that were very different from the outset of COVID to during COVID. So at the very outset of COVID reports, child abuse, neglect, risk reports dropped. 

00:06:31 Dr Christine Wekerle 

The educators, who were not right away online or in classroom, who are majority reporters. 

00:06:40 Dr Christine Wekerle 

They weren’t reporting childcare, personnel was not reporting. People were frightened of hospitals, so they weren’t going to the emergency rooms as they were. So the initial response was a drop. But then, as COVID persisted, and especially with things like. 

00:07:02 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Having mandates to stay inside, so you’re now forcing potentially very close quarters with a partner who tended towards, say, domestic violence or expressing their frustrations physically. What we did see. 

00:07:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Is there for an increase in intimate partner violence and an increase in physical abuse, especially towards the older males age 8 and up. 

00:07:34 Dr Christine Wekerle 

You know, especially like 10 and even 16 year olds. 

00:07:38 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And that’s this seems to have held globally because the global analysis looked at the rate as being 18%. A couple of interesting things is that whenever you’re going to have physical abuse, you’re going to have psychological or emotional abuse and. 

00:07:58 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Likely emotional neglect. So those rates went up as well. And I suppose what’s, you know, especially disturbing because it happens to infants and toddlers and is much more injurious and potentially. 

00:08:14 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Long term, quite damaging physically is abusive head trauma and that might have been called shaken baby and that also went up. 

00:08:31 Will Mountford 

Where we said now in November 2023, has there been any, I suppose, an ebbing of the tide, things returning to either how they were or have certain trends held out as a new normal as so many other phrases have been joined? 

00:08:47 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Right. I think the data is still out there because we what those those data that I was citing to you were publications in 2023. 

00:08:59 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So it takes a while for data to come out, so I would look to answer that question based on the research that’s available in 2024. 

00:09:10 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Whether we’ve been able. 

00:09:14 Dr Christine Wekerle 

To normalize one of the other things that happened during COVID is women who had young kids exited the workforce in large numbers, and that COVID shut down small businesses and people. 

00:09:34 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Experienced unemployment and unemployment was correlated with the greater violent physicality. 

00:09:45 Dr Christine Wekerle 

If we’re seeing job return, then you would expect to see a reduction in the physical violence. In part that would might be one reason. 

00:10:07 Will Mountford 

To center this around November and November and the initiatives across the globe for 

00:10:15 Will Mountford 

Men and their mental health and well-being with the increasing scrutiny of giving it a named month, has there been any turning of the page on stigma around men’s mental well-being? 

00:10:27 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Well, I think the statement still remains. 

00:10:31 Dr Christine Wekerle 

The helplines did try to do a boys helpline but ultimately they didn’t persist with that because you know you have to have a whole set of awareness campaign to be able to get to the point where the male calls the helpline. 

00:10:52 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And I think that. 

00:10:56 Dr Christine Wekerle 

You know, there’s still quite a lot to be done in school curricula. There has been a big boost in social emotional learning curricula. And I think that is a positive trend because when you think of the issue of violence. 

00:11:17 Dr Christine Wekerle 

We’re really looking at emotion regulation issues. 

00:11:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And if we are targeting early on the emotion regulation skills. 

00:11:29 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Being able to take a pause and breathe before you react. 

00:11:34 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Being able to label emotion words, having that literacy. 

00:11:41 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Understanding alternate strategies. 

00:11:44 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And even being able to walk away these these kinds of positive strategies of deescalation skills are really important in that. 

00:11:56 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Can be more integrated into curricula, and the idea of actually having kind of, you know, mental health curricula or resilience curricula is really important, a step forward. 

00:12:13 Will Mountford 

And there was one of your papers that came out. 

00:12:14 Will Mountford 

Just after we. 

00:12:16 Will Mountford 

Spoke last time December 20 paper on the need for global analysis of the sexual exploitation of boys. Did that identify any key barriers? You mentioned the curriculum as being an opportunity there, but in terms of hurdles and work arounds. 

00:12:33 Will Mountford 

Beyond what we’ve talked about, so. 

00:12:36 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Right. So Doctor Mark Kavanaugh, who was with ECPAT and now is with evident, really led that initiative to. 

00:12:46 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Delve into the sexual sexual exploitation of boys and child abuse and got journal did do a special issue in 2023 and that’s available for people to look at and we did identify a number of domains of barriers so in some countries. 

00:13:07 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Legally, there’s no such thing as boy rape. 

00:13:11 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So that. 

00:13:14 Dr Christine Wekerle 

There is no possibility for any kind of justice because only rape of girls is defined legally. 

00:13:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Unfortunately, among practitioners even there is a persistence of the myth that boys can’t be raped, or that any sex is good, or that it’s a, you know, a boy could offend it off. 

00:13:42 Dr Christine Wekerle 

You know, fended off their offender. These still persist among the practitioners. So you. 

00:13:48 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Can easily jump to the idea that when a boy victim may be seeking help or even medical treatment, that a a bit of victim blaming would be present in a lack of trauma informed. 

00:14:10 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So that we did see that from both attitudes and barriers. 

00:14:17 Dr Christine Wekerle 

The boys themselves, when, because we looked at both quantitative and qualitative data. So the boys themselves would articulate the saying that they weren’t welcomed in medical service settings when they need to have, you know, sexually transmitted disease and related issues attended to and that there weren’t boys specific spaces. 

00:14:40 Dr Christine Wekerle 

That there are girl specific shelters, but there weren’t boy specific spaces and it’s so difficult there for to be able to reach out for help. 

00:14:52 Dr Christine Wekerle 

The other kinds of issues is that those individuals who offend against boys may include authorities such as police officers. 

00:15:04 Dr Christine Wekerle 

People of power in the community, and so the victim is doubly victimized by not only having to sustain the actual victim behaviors, but the lack of acknowledgement validation of their victimization. 

00:15:25 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And so again, we talked about emotional abuse before. People may think while someone was physically assaulted in their sexual victimization, but there’s always that emotional trauma component as well. Some of these specific examples also. 

00:15:45 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Involve the household, so there’s a view that the male, no matter the fact that they’re a boy, even a very young boy, is responsible for bringing in money to the household. 

00:15:59 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Or other resources and there’s a tolerance of it being sexual exploitation. 

00:16:09 Dr Christine Wekerle 

In some communities, and that’s just, again, such a betrayal. We talk about betrayal, trauma, that your family is saying. We’ll go out, you know, I need, you know, I, the parent need medicine or want a new car or your younger brother needs to go to school, you know, secure those funds. 

00:16:30 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And some parents are very well aware of what? What happens, what’s underlying that money that comes back, and maybe some just don’t know. Don’t ask, right? 

00:16:41 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So there’s, you know, quite sadly, this household pushed to boys to be earners. And again, that’s a gender norm that, you know, children should be children. Children have a right to play. Children have a right to live and survive. They have a right to be free of violence. 

00:17:01 Dr Christine Wekerle 

These are all so you know the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

00:17:06 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Owing from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, they’re pretty near every country in the world signed off on except for the United States. So every country you know it’s, you know, the proof is in the pudding. Yes, you signed off. That means you had responsibilities. And what are you doing about it? 

00:17:26 Dr Christine Wekerle 

I think a really challenging, you know discrete scenario is in Afghanistan. You have this tradition, it’s really Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. You have a tradition of Chai tea. 

00:17:39 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Boys bacha bazi, where they they abduct or purchase from their family. These young boys teach them how to dance. They even perform at weddings, but they’re sex slaves. The this was pre Taliban and we do have one article from Afghanistan. 

00:17:59 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And our special issue. 

00:18:01 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And the the the situations, these are powerful men with money or in government or in the army. Not only do they utilize these boys as sex slaves, they also utilize them as potential proxy proxies for conflict resolution. And there has been cases. 

00:18:21 Dr Christine Wekerle 

When one of these boys were killed so that, you know, some conflict between two powerful people were resolved. 

00:18:29 Dr Christine Wekerle 

At 18 or when they grow facial hair, they kind of released from this bondage. But then now that the Taliban has taken over, they become ideal recruits with their rage to be suicide bombers or to. 

00:18:47 Dr Christine Wekerle 

To do what? Whatever on that side of things. And so they’re just victimized, like, bounced around the system, social systems and victimized. Do these kids have a chance? Do they ever get a chance? 

00:19:03 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And the US military, we’re we’re aware of that. When they were in Afghanistan. 

00:19:15 Will Mountford 

Well, to come back to the household in terms of centering things around dads in parent and child relations rather than, you know, intimate partners or to the wider. 

00:19:24 Will Mountford 

Petty what is needed of dads and what is needed for them. 

00:19:30 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Well, I think dads need as much support for positive parenting. I see many good movements on social media, where dads are celebrating kind of good fathering, and that social connecting and support group. 

00:19:50 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Of dads, two dads, I think is really, really important. 

00:19:55 Dr Christine Wekerle 

That dad’s getting together and not only supporting each other’s dads, but maybe getting together socially. 

00:20:03 Dr Christine Wekerle 

As does as you see, a group of women go walking to the park and sitting there chatting while the kids are playing on a playground. A dad group would be a wonderful idea as well, and many male figures step up if there isn’t a dad, so you know, an uncle. 

00:20:24 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Or a neighbor you know there are many people to come in. It’s clear that. 

00:20:33 Dr Christine Wekerle 

What a child benefits most from is these kinds of close relationships and that organizations bring risks as you may be aware, you know the incredible fallout of Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, tremendous child sexual abuse. 

00:20:55 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Huge child sexual abuse issues, wherever there is, you know, an organization, of course you’re going to get paedophiles going to the organization. So they’ve had a the Boy Scouts had a huge settlement recently. 

00:21:12 Dr Christine Wekerle 

It’s so sad because there are these resources, but the parents have to be very on guard to, you know, screen pick up the clues. If the kid says that they don’t want to go to that organizational meeting and things like that, but. 

00:21:31 Dr Christine Wekerle 

You know, there are slowly programs like actual psychological programs, therapeutic programs, supporting dads in existence and. 

00:21:44 Dr Christine Wekerle 

I think that you know, the research shows that at certain points in the development, dads are super impactful. So for between girls, their relationship with their dad really is very impactful for the kind of. 

00:22:05 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Partner relationships they might. 

00:22:07 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Move towards. You know, dads can have that conversation as let me tell you about, you know, some things that I’ve learned or witnessed, you know. 

00:22:18 Will Mountford 

To pick up on the note there, you mentioned of the development of program. So we can also go to the development of tools and in our previous episode we spoke about the Joy Pop app and mobile health telehealth. I imagine it’s been an interesting couple of years for mobile health. 

00:22:32 Will Mountford 

Initiatives, could I ask? 

00:22:34 Will Mountford 

You for a catch up on what’s been happening with the development and rollout there. 

00:22:39 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Sure. Absolutely. Again, we talk about what are the core skills and processes that we want to, you know, work towards what will give you a lot of bang for your buck and emotion regulation being one of those. 

00:22:56 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Core skills. 

00:22:58 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And so the joy Pop app is a youth resilience app designed for adolescents to young adults, and it has a number of features. And again, a game in it that is designed to give positive experiences where you can, you know, work through. 

00:23:19 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Not only some of what might be bothering you in a day, but staying in touch with those positive emotions because one of the you know, pure research facts is that when you’re feeling stress, your focus of attention narrows. 

00:23:36 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And so you will miss positives. You’ll miss positive and your kids. You’ll miss positives in yourself. You’ll miss positives in the environment and it takes some effort then to like, really kind of stop and smell the roses and to notice those pauses to self, reinforce self reward. 

00:23:56 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And to reward others. 

00:23:59 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So the the joy pop up is quite organized around these positive experiences. 

00:24:05 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Our research continues to encourage us to do more research that shows we do indeed see in a month of using the app. We do see significant gains in the ability, the ability to emotional regulate. 

00:24:24 Dr Christine Wekerle 

We do see drops in depression. We know that male depression is one of the predictors of intimate partner violence. 

00:24:32 Dr Christine Wekerle 

We do also see that the app itself is considered enjoyable and. 

00:24:44 Dr Christine Wekerle 

That people are recognizing that is helping them to be more in touch with understanding about their emotions, detecting their own patterns and, you know, really being used as a route. 

00:25:00 Dr Christine Wekerle 

So out of. 

00:25:02 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Say 28 days of the research, people report using the app 20 days, usually about twice a day, so it is something that does have take up and we’re currently in a randomized controlled trial with Doctor Ashton. 

00:25:20 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Squash in Northern Ontario, Lakehead University, and we’re expanding the app to support the professionals. So we did do a study with social work students. 

00:25:35 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And where we did do a study with indigenous youth and indigenous community members to start to understand, you know, how do different groups that may use the app feel about the app? 

00:25:49 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Generally, it’s always very positive and there are some adaptations as you might imagine to say, cultural groups they would like to see their own icons or some of their own teachings. 

00:26:03 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Uh, so that’s basically where the uh app is. It’s a research project. It’s ongoing and we hope it just continues to expand. 

00:26:13 Will Mountford 

Do you see there being any limits that this could reach, or is there something to be taken from the Joy pop style of engagement for everyone? 

00:26:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

I think there’s some value for everyone because emotional regulation is such a core issue and what we’re really talking about is personalization. 

00:26:34 Dr Christine Wekerle 

To a community and that is pretty reasonably done within the app. 

00:26:40 Dr Christine Wekerle 

That we can make those kinds of adaptations if you know. 

00:26:45 Dr Christine Wekerle 

We’re in the business of getting research grants for these kinds of things. But yeah, I mean to do like even a language switch is pretty easy. 

00:27:00 Dr Christine Wekerle 

With an app. 

00:27:01 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And you know that preliminary work to work with community, to understand what would be most beneficial. So we started to work on a Wellness wheel that is kind of developed from the medicine wheel teaching, which really. 

00:27:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Talks about your holistic health, so not just your physical or emotional health, but also your spiritual health and sorting activities within to that. So you could track how balanced you’re being in these 4 quadrant. 

00:27:38 Dr Christine Wekerle 

We started to do some of that adaptation work. Whether it will be, you know, changing language, adding some language words, altering our prompts for the journaling activity that will be more culturally or group relevant. 

00:27:58 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Bringing in a new feature, these are things that we can accommodate doing. 

00:28:04 Will Mountford 

Or we’ve had a bit of a whistle stop tour in the last 30 minutes to summarize the last three years, but bring that into even sharper focus. If anyone listening to this has skipped to the end, what do you like for them to take from? 

00:28:17 Dr Christine Wekerle 

This conversation well for anyone I’d like to offer the idea that, you know resilience is within you. 

00:28:26 Dr Christine Wekerle 

It is a muscle that you flex and grow. 

00:28:29 Dr Christine Wekerle 

There are resources out there, and no matter what adversity or stress you’re in, you already are being resilient and you can identify some of that. The other piece I would like to say is to policy persons is that investing in resilience. 

00:28:49 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Tools, especially in places and points of developmental transition like the transition to colleges and university or the transition to high. 

00:29:00 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Cool. This is really, I think, an area where you will get bang for your buck because you’re dealing with so much mental health issues and suicidality that if you take a proactive approach, you know an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment needs, you know. 

00:29:22 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Prevention health promotion is a payoff to you in terms of other costs. For instance, for our joy Pop app, the activities you can pop in there for less than two minutes and get something out of it so it doesn’t have to be labor intensive. It can be just those little breaks you put in your day that pauses. 

00:29:43 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Their stress or rumor? 

00:29:44 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Nation that shifts things for you and that kind of helps with resetting your emotional trajectory even in, you know points of challenge. You know, when I see some of the footage from Gaza and, you know, a child will smile because someone is. 

00:30:06 Dr Christine Wekerle 

Saying some nice things to them or asking them a question about something. And in the midst of the nightmare, the child will smile and that child smile and turn. 

00:30:16 Dr Christine Wekerle 

And, you know, brings a lot to the adults. 

00:30:19 Dr Christine Wekerle 

There are many small joys that we can grab on to and that can help sustain us. 

00:30:27 Will Mountford 

Doctor Wekerle, thank you so much for your time again today and hope to. 

00:30:29 Will Mountford 

Speak with you again soon. Thank you all have a joyful day. 



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