Social Scientists from Wellesley Centers for Women Share Research on Adolescents’ and Immigrants’ Mental Health and Risk-Taking Behavior

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Scholars from the Wellesley Centers for Women share findings from research studies on depression prevention and adolescents; mental health care and immigrants; and mother’s religiosity and its effect on adolescents’ sexual behavior.

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The team found that higher levels of adolescent/ mother discordance in religious importance were related to increased emerging adult sexual risk-taking compared to those with similar levels of adolescent/mother religiosity.

Scholars from the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) have recently published research findings on depression prevention for adolescents; mental health care and immigrants; and mother’s religiosity and its effect on adolescents’ sexual behavior, in peer-reviewed publications dedicated to psychology, psychiatry, and primary prevention.

Depression Prevention and Adolescents

Tracy Gladstone, Ph.D., WCW senior research scientist, co-authored, “Understanding Adolescent Response to a Technology-Based Depression Prevention Program” (Gladstone, T., Marko-Holguin, M., Henry, J., Fogel, J., Diehl, A., and Van Voorhees, B.), which has been accepted to the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, for a forthcoming special issue on technology-based interventions. Guided by the Behavioral Vaccine Theory of prevention, this study uses a no-control group design to examine intervention variables that predict favorable changes in depressive symptoms at the six-to-eight week follow-up in at-risk adolescents who participated in a primary care, Internet-based prevention program. The findings support the importance of cognitive factors in preventing adolescent depression and suggest that modifiable aspects of technology-based intervention experience and relationships should be considered in optimizing intervention design.

A chapter Gladstone co-authored with William Beardslee, M.D. entitled, “Mental Illness Prevention and Promotion”, will be included in a new volume, The Challenges of Mental Health Caregiving. She also co-authored, "Prevention of Depression in At-Risk Adolescents Longer-term Effects," (Beardslee, W., Brent, D., Weersing, V., Clarke, G., Porta, G., Hollon, S., Gladstone, T., Gallop, R., Lynch, F., Iyengar, S., DeBar, L., and Garber, J.) included in the September 2013 issue of JAMA Psychiatry. The article examined adolescent offspring of depressed parents, who are at high risk for experiencing depressive disorders themselves, to determine whether the positive effects of a group cognitive-behavioral prevention (CBP) program extended to longer-term follow-up. Among the findings, the researchers determined that over the 33-month follow-up period, youths in the CBP condition had significantly fewer onsets of depressive episodes compared with those in usual care (UC). Parental depression at baseline significantly moderated the intervention effect. When parents were not depressed at intake, CBP was superior to UC, however when parents were actively depressed at baseline, average onset rates between CBP and UC were not significantly different.

Mental Health Care and Immigrants

“Clinical Issues and Challenges in Treating Undocumented Immigrants,” by Lisa Fortuna, M.D., M.P.H., and Michelle Porche, Ed.D., WCW associate director and senior research scientist, is included in the August 2013 issue of Psychiatric Times. The article describes risk factors for undocumented immigrants, specific barriers to mental health services use, and evidence-based approaches to care. The article is available through the publisher’s website.

Mother’s Religiosity and Its Effect on Adolescents’ Sexual Behavior

Research undertaken by WCW scholars that examines adolescents’ sexual behavior in relation to discord with their mother’s religiosity, is featured in the October 2013 Journal of Primary Prevention. This study investigates the relationship between adolescent/mother religious discordance and emerging adult sexual risk-taking six to seven years later. The research team of Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D., Allison Tracy, Ph.D., and Anne Noonan, Ph.D., utilized Social Control Theory to examine the level and direction of concordance using data from the Add Health Study, focusing on constructs of religious importance, frequency of prayer, and attendance at religious services. The team found that higher levels of adolescent/ mother discordance in religious importance were related to increased emerging adult sexual risk-taking compared to those with similar levels of adolescent/mother religiosity—this occurred only when mothers reported higher levels of religious importance than their children. In contrast, adolescents reporting higher frequency of prayer than their mothers reported lower levels of sexual risk-taking than those with similar frequency of adolescent/mother prayer. The findings suggest that the protective effects of family religious socialization can be interrupted. However, the influence of religious difference on sexual risk-behavior does not operate the same and depends on the direction and level of religious difference.

The Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College is one of the largest gender-focused research-and-action organizations in the world. Scholars at the Centers conduct social science research and evaluation, develop theory and publications, and implement training programs on issues that put women’s lives and women’s concerns at the center. Since 1974, its work has generated changes in attitudes, practices, and public policy.

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Donna Tambascio
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