An alarming one in five university students will turn to self-harming behaviours like cutting and burning to cope with stress, anxiety and sadness. But why students choose self-harm over other coping behaviours remains a mystery, says lifespan development psychologist Chloe Hamza.
Understanding and eventually disrupting this cycle of self-abuse, which increases later risk of suicidal behavior by two to four per cent among students, is the focus of an ambitious research project by the assistant professor in the department of applied psychology and human development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
Her research is receiving support from the Connaught New Researcher Award.
The annual awards are only provided to U of T assistant professors within the first five years of a tenured-stream academic appointment to help them establish strong research programs. This year the Connaught Fund is awarding a total of $994,000 to 56 researchers across a range of disciplines. See below for a full list of recipients.
“Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Connaught New Researcher Award on their well-deserved achievement,” said Professor Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation.
“This funding is designed to help some of the best up-and-coming U of T researchers get their vital projects off the ground and position them to go after and secure external funding to continue and expand their research down the road.”
Hamza (pictured below) just joined U of T last July. She is over the moon about the funding – her first research grant to do her own independent study on such a surprisingly understudied area of mental health.
“It’s very exciting,” she says about receiving the $35,000 in Connaught funding. “I think this also underscores the university’s recognition of the importance (and prioritization) of funding research that can serve to inform efforts to promote positive mental health and well-being among students on campus.”
Non-suicidal, self-injury refers to direct and intentional self-harming without lethal intent, Hamza explains. Although cutting by women has received a fair amount of attention by media, non-suicidal, self-harming behaviours, or NSSI for short, are used by both sexes, albeit the behaviours differ.
“Men are more likely to use burning or self-hitting,” she says, “while women are more likely to engage in cutting and scratching. That’s why when we survey people, like students, we need to ask about a whole spectrum of behaviours.”
And, for reasons that remain unclear to researchers at this time, university students are more likely to engage in NSSI than peers their same age who are not in post-secondary education, Hamza says, adding that’s one of the reasons it’s so important for U of T to engage in this kind of research.
Hamza hopes her search for answers, which will start this fall with a study of U of T students who have engaged in NSSI, will help clinicians create better interventions and lifelong coping strategies for struggling students.
According to emotional cascade theory, some people experience negative emotions intensely, leading to rumination and more negative emotions (an emotional cascade). NSSI may serve as one way to disrupt this “vicious feedback loop,” while other healthier coping strategies may not provide enough distraction “to interrupt that emotional cascade for some students.” Finding an intervention to disrupt that feedback loop could help people engage in less destructive, more positive behaviour.
She says she also hopes to someday do a large-scale survey, arising out of this foundational study, to follow her student subjects as they age. Perhaps like binge drinking in the early years of university, NSSI behaviour tapers off with age?
In addition to Hamza, the recipients of this year’s Connaught New Researcher Award are:
Dalla Lana School of Public Health
• Emily Seto of the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation for “Telemonitoring in an integrated chronic disease management clinic: A new model of care for complex patients with multiple chronic conditions”
Faculty of Arts & Science
• Anabela Alves dos Santos Rato of the department of Spanish & Portuguese for “the role of cross-language phonetic similarity and articulatory difficulty in L2 speech learning”
• Susana Bejar of the department of linguistics for “the syntax of Georgian pseudoclefts”
• Arthur Blouin of the department of economics for “the dynamics of diversity: evidence from ancestral migration”
• Irene Boeckmann of the department of sociology for “fatherhood and men’s earnings from a cross-national perspective”
• Elisa Brilli of the department of Italian studies for “Dante among Augustine's readers. Humankind, earthly city and theology of history”
• Murat Celik of the department of economics for “the effects of misallocation of resources on economic growth, innovation, and inequality”
• Joseph Clarke of the department of the history of art for “open office design and the acoustics of the knowledge economy, 1960-1980”
• Thom Dancer of the department of philosophy for “what we owe to children”
• Roger Grosse of the department of computer science for “scalable and flexible Bayesian learning”
• Alec Jacobson of the department of computer science for “robust geometry processing for big dirty data”
• SeungJung Kim of the department of the history of art for “a phenomenology of time in the visual culture of ancient Greece”
• David Levin of the department of computer science for “big data for fast and accurate numerical simulation of mechanical structures”
• Aleksandar Nikolov of the department of computer science for “geometric methods in discrepancy and privacy”
• Guillaume Thomas of the department of linguistics for “building a Mbyá treebank”
• Yurou Zhong of the department of East Asian studies for “socialist scripts and scripting socialism in the early PRC”
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
• Rachelle Ashcroft for “patient perspectives of the incentives and disincentives for quality mental health care in Ontario family health teams”
• Bryn King for “developmental disruptions: adolescent involvement in the child welfare system in Ontario”
Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering
• Erin Bobicki of the department of materials science and engineering for “reducing water and energy use in mineral processing”
• Eric David Diller of the department of mechanical and industrial engineering for “minimally-invasive surgery through miniaturized magnetic surgical tools”
• Tobin Filleter of the department of mechanical & industrial engineering for “micro-mechanical studies of MoS2 dry lubricated contacts for space applications”
• Jonathan Kelly of the Institute for Aerospace Studies for “seeing the light: advancing visual sensing for robust and reliable robot navigation and manipulation”
• Edmond Young of the department of mechanical and industrial engineering for “development of microfluidic airway-on-a-chip for studying lung epithelial and smooth muscle cell interactions”
Faculty of Dentistry
• Karina Carneiro for “DNA nanostructures as scaffolds for hard tissue regeneration”
• Massieh Moayedi for “elucidating the role of the hippocampus in pain perception”
Faculty of Law
• Richard Stacey for “the privatization of honour: Delegating to industry the Crown’s duty to consult Aboriginal peoples”
Faculty of Medicine
• Arthur Mortha of the department of immunology for “development of anaerobic culture methods for the ex vivo study of intestinal protozoa”
Joseph L. Rotman School of Management
• Olivier Dessaint for “the determinants of M&A decisions and their welfare implications”
• Daehyun Kim for “CEO stock performance-based compensation manipulation through timing of news disclosure”
• Azarakhsh Malekian for “partial co-operation in societies and local grim trigger strategies”
• Ryan Webb for researching the question “does context-dependent choice arise from the principles of neural computation?”
Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy
• Robert Bonin for “elucidating molecular mechanisms of reconsolidation to reverse pathological pain”
University of Toronto Mississauga
• Andrew Beharry of department of chemical and physical sciences for “small molecular probes for fluorescence-guided photodynamic therapy”
• Katharina Braeutigam of the department of biology for “the relationship between genome, epigenome and plant performance in trees”
• Jacopo De Simoi of the department of mathematical and computational sciences for “fast-slow dynamical systems”
• Teddy Erclik of the department of biology for “spatial and temporal patterning of neural stem cells in the developing fruit fly brain”
• Keisuke Fukuda of the department of psychology for “EEG-based memory monitoring and intervention for older adults”
• Dehan Kong of the department of mathematical and computational sciences for “novel statistical models for imaging genetics data”
• Marie-Paule Lory of the department of language studies for “awareness of language program: adopting a plurilingual paradigm to engage students to learn French as a second language in English elementary schools in Ontario”
• Akwasi Owusu-Bempah of the department of sociology for “the representation of black criminality and street gangs in Toronto: 2000-2015”
• Xu Tian of the department of economics for “the macroeconomic implications of financial frictions”
• Liye Xie of the department of anthropology for “labour mobilization for early Bronze Age urban construction at Erlitou, China”
University of Toronto Scarborough
• Sandro Ambuehl of the department of management for “incentives for complex transactions – bridging economics and ethics”
• Stefanos Aretakis of the department of computer and mathematical sciences for “mathematical problems in general relativity”
• Hilary Kathryn Brown of department of anthropology for “maternal diabetes and perinatal mental illness: a population-based study”
• Andrea Charise of the department of anthropology for “novel remedies: literature, health and the creative recovery of the humanities”
• Mike Ekers of the department of human geography for “financializing forests in British Columbia: land, governance and the ecological fix”
• Brett Quaid Ford of the department of psychology for researching the issue “can emotion regulation counteract the harmful effects of stress exposure? The role of reappraisal in protecting individual's emotional and physiological outcomes”
• Diana Xuan Fu of the department of political science for “reaching for half the sky: explaining China's new wave feminist movement”
• Mariana Khapko of the department of management for “markets of tomorrow: blockchain trade settlement and liquidity”
• Pamela Milagros Medina Quispe of the department of management for “exploring barriers of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to international market access through e-commerce”
• David Bartzoon of the department of arts, culture and media for “app studies: exploring the political economy of mobile media platforms”
• Stefan Renckens of the department of political science for “transnational private sustainability governance as interest community”
• Giulio Tiozzo of the department of computer and mathematical sciences for “ergodic theory of low-dimensional dynamical systems”