Beth Russell, HDFS Faculty Spotlight, July 2021

Associate Professor and Associate Department Head of Undergraduate Studies

Beth RussellBeth Russell has spent the last 15 years studying how people regulate psychological distress. Her studies examine how individuals and families respond to stress across a range of typical life events (like the transition to parenthood) and atypical experiences (such as raising children in the context of chronic health conditions). Her most recent work focuses on substance use trajectories from adolescence through adulthood and considers how individual substance use intersects with close family relationships (relationship antecedents to substance use, or caregiver burden consequences during active use and recovery). She is currently funded on several teams to develop and test cognitive behavioral interventions that target the regulation of distress as the mediators of substance use and recovery outcomes.

Families are a primary source of socialization that guide individuals during times of stress. Much of the modeling parents and close loved ones provide about how to manage challenges is shaped by these caregivers’ own attitudes about stress and the coping behaviors they have found effective. These effortful actions to modulate a stressful experience are a compliment to the procedural emotion regulation behaviors that may be modeled in a home without explicit intent to “teach” about coping – – alcohol use, for example. Family member supports to cope with stress extend far beyond childhood and are especially needed when facing difficult circumstances. Dr. Russell’s recent work during the COVID pandemic demonstrated that caregivers and younger adults reported exacerbated psychological distress during the pandemic, providing longitudinal evidence from two national survey studies of the differential impacts these groups experienced over a 12-month period. Describing the unique distress and resilience trajectories among subgroups at heightened risk for mental health struggles is an important step in tailoring accessible and equitable interventions for those with the greatest needs.

Beth became the Director of the Center for Applied Research in Human Development (CARHD) in 2018, where she has over a decade of experience directing evaluations of human service programs that provide supports to disadvantaged communities, helping programs identify what works best for whom within their client populations. Her work as Director strives to ensure CARHD is a sustainable interdisciplinary contributor to UConn’s Land Grant Mission, given its mission to enable the development and application of interventions intended to improve quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. Dr. Russell is also an Associate Editor for the Journal of Child & Family Studies, and sits on editorial board for the Journal of Primary Prevention.

Outside of work, Beth spends time with her family, in her gardens, and connecting with friends over good food. Her whole family loves traveling to find the best beaches, jungles, waterfalls, and caves, and is looking forward to tackling a few new adventures together in the post-Covid world.

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