Studying stress

Doctoral team researches shame, stress, and substance use.

Illustrations by Jacob Melton

Professor of Clinical Psychology Amy Mezulis and teams of doctoral student researchers have published numerous articles this past year.

Last summer, Mezulis and doctoral students Jordan Skalisky, Madeline Wielgus, and Jaclyn Aldrich published a study in the journal Addictive Behaviors looking at college students’ different motives for using alcohol or marijuana.

In May, graduate students Andrew Fox, Jaclyn Aldrich, and Joshua Ahles PhD ’18, published with Mezulis a paper in the journal Developmental Psychobiology examining the effects of stress and parenting in adolescence on children’s physiological responses to stress.

Young teens whose parents were less supportive during stressful life experiences exhibited physiological signs of stress over the course of a year; while teens with more supportive parents showed fewer signs of stress.

In July, Mezulis and doctoral students Madeline Wielgus, Lauren Hammond, Andrew Fox, and Melissa Hudson PhD ’17 published an article on the link between shame and self-harm in Journal of College Student Psychotherapy. Students who were prone to feelings of shame and brooding and tended to act rashly when distressed were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-harm behaviors.

The studies all fit under Mezulis’ research interest in depression rates among adolescents. From ages 10 to 20, depression rates rise from around 5% to around 25%.

“I’m interested in why that happens — why are teenagers so much more likely to get depressed?” Mezulis said. “Everything we do is answering the question in some way.”

Mezulis works with around 10 graduate students at any point, and she tries to include each of them as authors on research publications to help them move into jobs as independent researchers after graduation.

“One of the distinctives of our PhD program is that we have such a close mentoring model,” she said. “I meet with all of [my graduate students] weekly, and we have two to four research projects running simultaneously. It’s a close mentoring relationship where students get a lot of one-on-one time with their faculty mentor.”

Good questions

Jeffrey Keuss, professor of Christian ministry, theology, and culture, published Live the Questions: How Searching Shapes Our Convictions and Commitments (InterVarsity Press, 2019). In the book, Keuss suggests that embracing hard questions about life and our beliefs is a way to strengthen Christian faith rather than insisting on certainty. Book chapters discuss questions about responsibility, fear, doubt, loss, discipleship, and other topics, urging the reader to practice good question-asking. “To be human is to ask more and more questions,” Keuss writes.

Poems of consecration

Scott Cairns, program director for Seattle Pacific’s MFA in Creative Writing, published Anaphora (Paraclete Press, 2019). The title alludes to the practice of deliberately repeating words or phrases and also to the prayer that accompanies the preparation of the Eucharist in liturgical churches, signaling the moment of consecration. “I trust … that most [of these poems] will invite a sense of words as doing more than naming, more than serving as arrows pointing to prior substance,” Cairns writes in the preface. “I trust that, at least intermittently, these words may acquire due substance of their own, partaking of more than is apparent, the more that is nonetheless so, and is present.”

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