Things that are contagious: laughter, yawning, sneezing, the common cold. And now somewhere on that list you’ll find cognitive vulnerability. A recent study by Notre Dame psychology professor Gerald Haeffel, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, found that a risk factor for depression known as ‘cognitive vulnerability’ can be passed from one individual to another. Haeffel said cognitive vulnerability is essentially a style of thinking about events and personal reflection, not to be confused with the mood of depression itself. Cognitive vulnerability can be a powerful predictor of future depressive episodes, he said. “To give an example, say two people both fail a test here. The college student who is at risk for depression will think, ‘This means I’m stupid, or worthless, I’m never going to get into grad school now,’ and when they’re sad, they just focus on this,” Haeffel said. “They’re stuck on ‘I feel so sad, why do I feel so miserable, what’s wrong with me?’ That’s the person who’s at risk for depression.” Haeffel said. “Whereas another student who gets the same failing grade might think ‘I didn’t work hard enough, I’ll work harder on the next one. I’ll catch up, I’ll be fine, I’ll still get into grad school,’” he said. “And when they feel sad, they go and play basketball or go play a sport or do whatever. That person’s not at risk for depression.” Haeffel said conventional wisdom in the psychology field has held that cognitive vulnerability in individuals remains relatively stable throughout life, past adolescence. “We thought that there were going to be times when it might change. These would be times during major life transitions, times when you go into a new social environment where you’re surrounded by new people who have all new ways of thinking,” Haeffel said. “We thought that [in these times] it might rub off and actually be contagious.” To investigate this hypothesis, Haeffel said he and Jennifer Hames, a 2009 graduate of Notre Dame, conducted a study on 103 pairs of randomly assigned freshman roommates at the University. Haeffel surveyed the students on the two aspects of cognitive vulnerability – event interpretation and self-reflection – when the freshmen first arrived, three months later, and at the end of the academic year, six months later. Haeffel found that those who had a roommate with a negative way of thinking about the world caught some of that style and became more negative in their own thinking. At the final survey, those who had their cognitive vulnerability adversely influenced were at a significantly greater risk for depression. “This is the first study to show that these can change more easily than you thought,” Haeffel said. “In three months, we saw changes in vulnerability that then actually meant something for future depressive symptoms.” Haeffel emphasized that these findings on the relative malleability of cognitive vulnerability have implications in treatment of depression. He said those suffering from the disorder could benefit greatly from a treatment such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which focuses on how individuals think about events and themselves. “If people are struggling with depression, we always hear on the news that the best treatments are medication,” Haeffel said. “But this therapy is as effective as medication and it’s time-limited so you don’t have to take it your whole life. It also has a relapse-prevention effect, unlike medication. “You learn the skills and it keeps you safe from depression in the future, which tends to be highly recurrent.” Contact Henry Gens at [email protected]
Campus Ministry at Saint Mary’s welcomed a new addition to the department at the beginning of this year when Liz Palmer was named assistant director.Palmer is a Saint Mary’s alumna from the class of 2013. She was a biology and psychology double major and landed her dream job in Campus Ministry, she said.“I get to give back to the place that invited me to know my faith more deeply,” Palmer said.Some of the components of Palmer’s work with Campus Ministry are organizing retreats, leading pilgrimages both locally and internationally and organizing work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS).“[CRS is] making global issues more local, and being advocates on campus for topics like immigration, climate change [and] global hunger,” she said.Palmer is also focused on the social media side of Campus Ministry to advertise for different events through their various platforms.“We do want to invite people into conversation into worship spaces and just empower women on campus,” she said.She is using the presence of social media to promote her “I Found” campaign. Palmer reached out to a number of students and asked them to answer the question, “I have found [blank]” with the hashtag #throughfaithoncampus, she said.“It has been a way to share with others … if they have found faith on campus through extracurriculars, relationships with mentors or through the aesthetic beauty of the College,” Palmer said.One of Palmer’s goals as she kicks off the year is to cultivate relationships with students.“I want my office to be a welcoming environment for students to come in,” she said.She wants to also be able to expand outside of her office and interact with students all around campus. Palmer said students can get involved with Campus Ministry through the club Friends with Sisters. Students will be paired up with Sisters of the Holy Cross to connect with each other and their own faith.As the year progresses, Palmer said she is very excited for her fall break pilgrimage to Brazil to visit Sisters of the Holy Cross. She is also organizing a pilgrimage to Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood on Sept. 20 to focus on Our Lady of Guadalupe.“[Participating students will] go beyond the walls of Saint Mary’s to a Pilsen neighborhood and see different murals, talk about the history and talk about living faith,” Palmer said.Palmer said there will be an opportunity for the tri-campus community to connect through Catholic Relief Services Ambassador Training on Sunday. This will offer networking between campuses and an opportunity to be an ambassador since it is a national program.“We’re going to be learning about advocacy training and how to tangibly bring ideas to campus,” she said.Palmer said she has many ideas she looks forward to sharing with the campus community. She wants to keep her door open, she said, to anyone interested in Campus Ministry to participate in the work she fell in love with while attending Saint Mary’s as a student.Tags: Campus Ministry, liz palmer, Sisters of the Holy Cross
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