Andrew Downs

Photo of Andrew DownsAssociate Professor of Psychological Sciences

“After completing my undergraduate studies in psychology and history, I worked for agencies that provided treatment to clients who were experiencing serious mental health problems, which compromised their ability to function. The clients were labeled as ‘mentally ill,’ a stigma that can result in terrible treatment in our society. It became painfully apparent to me that the way we approach mental health is a clear social justice issue that we are largely ignoring as a society, and I became inspired to try and do something to address it.

My current research is focused on how to identify and prevent mental health problems. For example, we know physical activity can help prevent and treat mental health problems, but most people aren't active enough. So, I am working to identify psychological and societal factors that could help people increase their physical activity. I am also developing and testing screening measures that could identify people who are at-risk for mental health problems so they can receive help before their functioning is severely compromised. Research clearly indicates that just as everyone gets physically ill, it also is perfectly normal for most people to experience mental health problems at some point in their life. It is my hope that we will move to a much more proactive approach in dealing with mental health — one that uses prevention and early identification to help people function at their optimal level.

I hope my students develop an appreciation for the complexities of psychological science, and that they become critical observers of their own and others’ behavior, an important life skill that fosters compassion and respect. I include students in all aspects of my research, from initial development through publication. Some are inspired to pursue their own research as graduate students and professionals and others decide that the research world is not for them. Their decision is not what is important to me — what is important is that they make their choice from a place of knowledge and experience.”

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