Unlocking insights through high-precision data: How this uOttawa core facility is fuelling health and wellness research

Better healthcare
Research and innovation
Faculty of Social Sciences
Faculty of Medicine
Core facilities

By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

a ladder leading up to a large keyhole giving a peek on data and science symbols while the right side of the image shows pedestrians going over a crosswalk made of health-themed progress bars
To meet the growing demand for mental health and well-being support, there’s a pressing need to develop and expand resources and support systems. Understanding the complexities and nuances surrounding mental health and wellness has become of utmost importance.

The University of Ottawa is one institution leading the way, with researchers conducting interdisciplinary research projects on health-focused questions. 

Highly accurate data plays a pivotal role here. The Ottawa-Outaouais Research Data Centre (ORDC), one of 26 state-of-the-art core facilities overseen by the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (OVPRI), is a partnership between uOttawa and the Université du Québec en Outaouais. It offers secure microdata for researchers.  

“The ORDC is a unique resource for researchers, providing access to important data that is otherwise not readily available,” said Caroline Hyslop, associate university librarian and ORDC academic director. “Accurate, reliable data serve as the cornerstone for a comprehensive analysis and nuanced exploration of important social and economic issues, leading to evidence-based policy decisions.” 

Professors Catherine Deri Armstrong and Ian Colman, from the faculties of Social Sciences and Medicine, respectively, and their teams, are among the researchers for whom ORDC data has been an invaluable resource.  

From the cyclical nature of sleep to end-of-life care and the association between exposure to suicide and suicidality outcomes in youth, their research has put a wide range of topics under the microscope. Here are some examples of their work.  

Caroline Hyslop, associate university librarian and academic director of the ORDC at uOttawa, in front of the Morisset Library, home to the ORDC.
Core Facilities

“Accurate, reliable data serve as the cornerstone for a comprehensive analysis and nuanced exploration of important social and economic issues.”

Caroline Hyslop

— Associate university librarian and ORDC academic director

Dying at Home: A Privilege for Those with Time and Money

Professors Catherine Deri Armstrong and Rose Anne Devlin, University of Ottawa (Faculty of Social Sciences) 

This 2022 study uses Canadian Vital Statistics death records from 2007 to 2019 —accessed through the ORDC — to investigate the factors influencing the location of death. The study focuses on determinants of home death, as opposed to death occurring in hospital or other health care facilities, among a sample of cancer decedents. 

The findings shed light on the role that time and money play in determining the likelihood of dying at home. They showed that individuals from higher-income neighbourhoods were significantly more likely to pass away at home than those from lower-income neighbourhoods.  

Moreover, the research established that younger and married individuals, who were more likely to have available caregivers, showed a higher likelihood of dying at home. This highlights the importance of having adequate support and caregiving resources for individuals who wish to spend their final days at home. 

The research also looked into how the unemployment rate relates to the occurrence of deaths at home. They discovered that when the economy is in a recession, there is a 6% reduction in the likelihood of dying at home. This suggests that time and money cannot be easily interchanged, and having sufficient financial resources is crucial for families who wish to facilitate home deaths, especially in situations involving end-of-life care. 

The ‘Trendiness’ of Sleep: An Empirical Investigation into the Cyclical Nature of Sleep Time

Professors Catherine Deri Armstrong, Pierre Brochu and Louis-Philippe Morin, University of Ottawa (Faculty of Social Sciences) 

In this 2011 empirical study, the uOttawa research team explored the relationship between sleep patterns and economic conditions using Canadian time use data. By examining variations in local unemployment rates, the researchers discovered a significant correlation: sleep time decreases when the economy is doing better. During a recession, Canadians sleep an average of three hours more per week, or 26 minutes more per day. 

The implications of these findings are far-reaching: minor changes in sleep time can significantly influence cognitive functioning, such as reaction time and concentration. Thus, the countercyclical nature of mortality, in which mortality rates tend to be lower during economic downturns, may be partly explained by changes in sleep patterns. 

The study also shows that sleep time is not solely determined by external factors, such as the natural sleep-wake cycle or fixed biological requirements. Instead, it is influenced by relative costs, including economic variables like the unemployment rate. 

This research contributes to a holistic understanding of sleep as a dynamic aspect of individuals’ lives. Such insights make it easier for policymakers and health-care professionals to view sleep in the broader context of well-being and mortality rates. 

Association between exposure to suicide and suicidality outcomes in youth

Professor Ian Colman, University of Ottawa (Faculty of Medicine) and Professor Sonja A Swanson, University of Pittsburgh (School of Public Health) 

In a groundbreaking research study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2013, Professors Colman and Swanson shed light on the phenomenon of “suicide contagion” among Canadian youth. The research revealed a significant association between exposure to suicide within the school environment and increased suicidality outcomes among youth aged 12 to 17. 

Those who reported that someone from their school had died by suicide were not only more likely to harbour thoughts of suicide themselves but also had a higher likelihood of making suicide attempts. 

The impact of this study extended far beyond the scientific community. The findings garnered global media attention, with coverage by prominent outlets including the CBC, CNN, CBS and major newspapers. 

The study influenced post-suicide guidelines worldwide, leading to changes in protocols and prevention strategies. Renowned organizations, including Public Health England, Samaritans, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, incorporated its insights into their guidelines. The scientific community also embraced the study, as evidenced by a remarkable 179 citations. 

Integral to the success of this study was the collaboration with Statistics Canada and the use of its extensive survey data, access to which was made possible through the Ottawa-Outaouais Research Data Centre. 

Morisset Library sign
Morisset Library sign.

The ORDC emerges as a catalyst for transformative research, providing access to a diverse array of official statistics and enabling researchers to generate invaluable insights.   

The impact of such findings extends beyond academia to inform public policy discussions and drive meaningful change. Governments, healthcare institutions, and organizations worldwide have drawn upon the evidence generated by ORDC-supported projects to shape guidelines, protocols and interventions.