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Personal profile

Biography

My research and knowledge focus on sensitive periods of brain development and puberty using longitudinal and multi-method data. Neurobiological development related to social processing and self-identity during puberty is critical for healthy development. Peer social-evaluative stress related to self-identity (i.e., “self-social stress”) shows observable neural, hormonal, and immune (i.e., neurobiological) responses. Adolescents with more reactive neurobiological systems to self-social stress may be more at risk for developing depression. Conversely, there are factors such as high levels of social support, that may protect against this risk. My PhD and postdoctoral training focused examining these associations in adolescent girls. My current program of research at Monash focuses on LGBTIQA+ adolescents and youth, because there are salient issues specific to LGBTIQA+ adolescent development of self-identity and social relationships that occur during puberty. The aim is to work with LGBTIQA+ communities and allies in a co-design framework and eventually provide evidence to inform public policy and education. This evidence should motivate us, as a broader society, to function in a more inclusive and less violent way, and ultimately reduce mental health disparities in this community.

 

Current Projects:

Social Stress and Puberty in Gender and Sexual Diverse Youth

Gender and sexual diverse youth experience a number of health disparities, including mental health. They also are one group of young people that experience a specific type of social (and self-identity) stressor at puberty – understanding, realizing, and announcing what their gender identity or sexual orientation is, can be stressful. For example, research shows that sexual minority-specific victimization significantly mediates the effect of sexual minority status on depressive symptoms. But this may depend on the level and quality of peer and family social support that they experience as they go through puberty and on individual differences in pubertal development. Yet, this community does not have a psychosocial puberty study of their own where their voices and stories of development can be heard. This pilot study will provide preliminary data showing if the association between social stress and mental health depends on puberty and social support specifically in sexual and gender diverse youth. We will then aim to develop a proposal for large-scale longitudinal cohort study following only gender and sexual diverse youth throughout adolescence and early adulthood to look at trajectories and the onset of mental health disorders in that community.

 

Identifying Brain Networks Associated with Immunoendocrine Reactivity to Social Stress and Depression During Puberty

Puberty is an important life phase where neurobiological development related to social processing is critical for healthy development. Peer social-evaluative stress becomes especially important during this time, because as children transition to adolescence, they become more concerned with how their peers think of them. One important step is to investigate how the functioning of brain networks necessary for social processing is associated with both endocrine and immune system responses to peer social-evaluative stress and how this, in turn, is associated with depression during adolescence, a sensitive developmental period for social learning. The aim of the proposed study is to determine if brain activity, hormonal and immune reactivity to social-evaluative stress, and depression are related in adolescent girls, and if early pubertal timing may be a risk factor for dysregulated neurobiological responses to social stress and depression. This study will provide unique and comprehensive insight into how brain and biological development in the context of social stress is associated with risk for adolescent depression in girls. It will fundamentally contribute to early intervention and preventative efforts for depression in adolescent girls.

 

The role of brain activity and connectivity in the association between immune function and depressive symptoms, and the effect of pubertal timing: A longitudinal study of adolescent girls

Recently, researchers have found that the functioning of the immune system, including chronic inflammation, is related to mental disorders such as depression, but the reasons for this are not clear. Because brain and pubertal development during early adolescence might play particularly important roles in this link, this study will look at how puberty, the immune system, brain development, and depression are related across time. Ultimately, this study will help us to understand how levels of inflammation during important times of adolescence can affect mental and physical health, so that we can intervene at the right time to ensure good health outcomes for all children.

Teaching:

PSY3062 - Research Methods and Theory - S2 2020, 2021, 2022

PSY4210 –Statistics and Data Science for Psychology - S1 2021, 2022

PSY4130 – Developmental psychology and clinical neuroscience - S2 2021

 

Recent Publications

Multimethod assessment of pubertal timing and associations with internalizing psychopathology in early adolescent girls: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34941314/

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Research area keywords

  • Psychoneuroimmunology
  • Psychoneuroendocrinology
  • Depression
  • Adolescence
  • Puberty
  • Developmental Social Neuroscience
  • Mental health
  • Brain development
  • Longitudinal designs and analyses
  • Inflammation
  • LGBTIQA+

Network

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