Understanding Stigma to Improve the Lives of Families Affected by FASD

In recent years, legal and social challenges in different parts of the world have exposed some of the stigmatized reactions towards women who drink during pregnancy and their children who may suffer from FASD. Brought to the surface are negative public attitudes and prejudices about women who consume alcohol during pregnancy that, in turn, stereotype families and affected individuals. Consequently, those affected by FASD (children, adolescents, adults, and biological and non-biological families) may experience negative self-esteem, isolation, and reduced opportunities.

These effects reverberate throughout families and over the life course. We need a better picture of the stigma experienced by those affected by FASD, and opportunities to reflect on the messages about alcohol use and FASD that are communicated when we interact with pregnant women, children and their families.  We need others to understand the implications of alcohol use during pregnancy, especially on brain and behavior. This not only applies in the health system, but also in the education, social services and legal systems where families affected by FASD may be frequently encountered. 

Dr. Emily Bell will share a model of the stigma experienced by those affected by FASD to springboard discussion about whether and why understanding the negative beliefs and attitudes that fuel stigma is worthwhile. She will make the case that designing public health messages should include routine examination of the potential effects of messages on psychological wellbeing of those affected by FASD. Using the example of screening women for drinking alcohol during pregnancy and screening for possible prenatal alcohol exposure, Dr. Jocelynn Cook will discuss how education and training can provide valuable opportunities for professional self-reflection. She will discuss how education impacts the way that front-line personnel interact with women during screening and can alter the health outcomes for mothers and their children. Together, we are working in partnership to improve outcomes and experiences of those living with FASD.


IMG1378.jpgDr. Emily Bell

Dr. Emily Bell obtained her PhD (psychiatry) from the University of Alberta in 2007 and later did postdoctoral research in the area of neuroethics. Until recently, she was Associate Researcher at the Neuroethics Research Unit in Montreal where her research focused on vulnerability and informed consent in invasive psychiatric research trials, ethical challenges in the development and application of biomarkers for neurodevelopmental disorders, and examination of the ethical implications of stigma in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Much of this research was conducted while she was a member of the Neuroethics Core of NeuroDevNet, a Canadian Network of Centre of Excellence. She remains deeply interested in health policy and youth mental health.



Dr. Jocelynn Cook 

Dr. Jocelynn Cook graduated with a PhD in Reproductive Physiology from the Medical University of South Carolina in 1997 and spent 10 years in an academic setting as graduate student, a post-doctoral fellow and an Assistant Professor. Wanting to expand her skillset beyond the basic science laboratory, she embarked on a Masters of Business Administration, and graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with an MBA, specializing in Economics and Health Policy. Her professional career has focused on issues related to maternal-fetal medicine; specifically, substance abuse during pregnancy, preterm birth, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Assisted Human Reproduction. She has gained expertise in clinical research and issues related to clinical practice for pregnant women and their children and program evaluation, as well as experience with population and epidemiology research. Early on in her career, she became involved with Aboriginal Health research, especially as it related to the social determinants of health. This broadened her research perspective and she gained expertise related to suicide prevention, mental health and addictions, child development, communicable diseases, chronic diseases, health surveillance and National and International trends in morbidity and mortality.   

Dr. Cook joined the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada as its first Scientific Director in 2014 and oversees all work related to Continuing Medical Education, Clinical Practice Guidelines, Research, Accreditation, Global Health and Indigenous Health. 

Dr. Cook is an Adjunct Professor to the department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Ottawa, appointed in 2002. 

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