“We’ve always studied mental health in the Department of Psychology,” says Prof. Joanna Pozzulo, chair of the Carleton University department.
“As the subject has become more prevalent, we’re seeing more faculty members embrace the area of mental health and well-being as part of their research.”
This year, the department hosts its second annual Psychology Mental Health Day on Thursday, Oct. 10. (9:30 am- 4:30 pm). Speakers include Carleton President Benoit-Antoine Bacon and researchers presenting their work on topics including addiction, anxiety, autism, workplace mental health, and using the natural environment to promote well-being.
That’s just some of the significant mental health research that’s happening at Carleton.
Tina Daniels: Cyber aggression in intimate relationships
Technology enables new forms of communication – and new forms of aggression.
Looking at a partner’s phone, monitoring their social networking sites, using their passwords to gain information, using surveillance apps. Recent research at Carleton University indicates that as many as 76 per cent of first- and second-year students in an intimate relationship report that they have committed at least one act of cyber aggression toward a partner in the last year.
Daniels and doctoral student Alyssa Bonneville are exploring how attachment relationships influence cyber aggression.
“Attachment is established in early childhood,” says Daniels, associate chair of the Psychology Department.
“But it stays with you for the rest of your life. It can shape all of your subsequent relationships.’’
Daniels and Bonneville examined two types of insecure attachment: avoidant and anxious-ambivalent.
“We found that people who have an avoidant-insecure attachment style don’t engage in direct forms of aggression such as physical or verbal aggression, Daniels says.
“They tend to use more covert, subtle types of aggression, like privacy invasion. People with an avoidant attachment style are more likely to engage in direct threats, insults or the sharing of private information, whereas indirect forms, such as privacy invasion, monitoring, etc. were used more by anxious individuals.”
Daniels and Bonneville hypothesize that a person’s attachment style could make them more concerned about their relationship and they might engage in cyber aggression as a reflection of that insecurity. Knowing a person’s attachment style can help predict the kinds of behaviours they might engage in – and prevent them.
Nassim Tabri: Eating disorders and our sense of self
The concept of self is an amorphous one. In our own personal sense of self, each of us places a different value on areas of life like relationships, wealth and appearance.
“Appearance weighs very heavily in how people with eating disorders understand and define their self. How they look matters a great deal when judging their self-worth,” says Tabri.
“I’ve been studying this construct and how it may lead to behaviours that can seriously affect a person’s health.”
When appearance is really important to someone’s sense of self, they are more likely to engage in behaviours like excessive exercising, dieting and food restriction. And it’s not uncommon – it’s estimated that about a million Canadians have an eating disorder.
“Many people also experience subclinical symptoms,” says Tabri.
“They won’t necessarily meet the diagnostic threshold for an eating disorder, but might engage in unhealthy dieting and exercise.
Developing a more varied sense of self can help.
“Finding meaning, importance and satisfaction in other areas of life — and not just appearance – is important to treatment approaches, but it’s also important for informing prevention.
Janet Mantler: Mental health in the workplace
The pressures of being a student can be hard on your mental health. So can the pressures of being a professor.
“Faculty members suffer anxiety more than many other professionals,” says Mantler.
“Faculty are always being evaluated. Grant applications and journal submissions are reviewed, students evaluate teachers. You ask yourself if you’re measuring up.”
Mantler’s research on professors’ mental health is part of “Healthy professional knowledge workers,” a pan-Canadian study led by Ivy Bourgeault at the University of Ottawa. It’s examining and comparing mental health of seven professions: nurses, doctors, dentists, midwives, teachers, accountants and professors.
The unique demands of a professor’s role can make it difficult to seek help.
“Faculty members tend not to take a leave of absence,” says Mantler.
“Partly, it’s stoicism. Partly, it’s because we’re able to manage our time and work from home. But another important factor is that you can’t call in a supply faculty member. If you’re teaching a course, and you’ve developed that course and it’s part-way through the term . . . you can’t call one of your colleagues. So we self-manage in secret. There’s still a stigma about taking a leave of absence, even among faculty members who do mental health research.”
Every professional work environment has its own dynamics and it’s important to understand what they are.
“Work takes up a large majority of our time,” Mantler says.
“When I interviewed faculty members for our pilot study. I started by asking: ‘How many hours do you work?’ Some people answered: ‘All of them.’ When things are not going well at work, it’s going to be one of the dominant factors in our mental health. We asked our survey participants about the biggest contributing factor in their mental health issues. It was work.”
Rachel Burns: Depression and Diabetes
People who suffer from diabetes are about twice as likely to suffer from depression – but we’re not exactly sure how the two conditions are related.
“There seems to be two major pathways through which depression and diabetes are linked,” says Burns.
“The first is behavioural: physical activity, diet and smoking are all risk factors for type 2 diabetes and are linked to depression. The second is inflammatory. Inflammation is associated with both depression and diabetes, and some people think that it drives the connection, or at least part of it.”
Together, the two conditions can create a sort of negative feedback loop for a patient’s health.
“If you have a lot of depressive symptoms, you feel like you have less social support. And the less social support you have, the higher your depressive symptoms become. General depressive symptoms and diabetes-specific worries also seem to be a vicious cycle. If you have depression, you worry more about your diabetes. And the more you worry about your diabetes, the more your depressive symptoms elevate.”
All of this can get in the way of patients caring for themselves.
“It takes a lot to manage diabetes: medication, diet, exercise. It’s difficult to do all of those behaviours if you have depression and you feel like you can’t get out of bed.”
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