Tracking the Impact of Trauma

When Psychology Professor Sarah Lowe launched the MSU Trauma and Resilience Lab this semester, she had a clear mission: to “explore the long-term mental health consequences of a range of potentially traumatic life events.” Researchers in her lab will look at pathways that lead from trauma to mental illness, as well as factors such as genetics and neighborhood characteristics, that shape trauma survivors’ resilience.

Researchers are working on numerous projects, including an on-campus study regarding Muslim-American students’ experiences of discrimination and a study with Psychology Professor Joshua Sandry to understand the neuropsychological correlation of PTSD among people with multiple sclerosis compared to those without it.

The lab has current funding through a National Institutes of Health grant to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, supporting the research in which Lowe and her students are involved.  “We’re analyzing the long-term patterns and predictors of post-traumatic stress among multinational studies of traumatic injury survivors from Israel, the Netherlands, Australia and Japan,” Lowe explains.

In spring 2017, the lab will receive funding from a subcontract award from Social and Scientific Systems, Inc., to support continued work on a longitudinal National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study of mental health outcomes among those who helped clean up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Mourners at a memorial for the victims in the 2015 Paris terror attacks.Mourners at a memorial for the victims in the 2015 Paris terror attacks

Lowe’s ongoing study that focused on the role of community resources in shaping mental health in New York City in the wake of Superstorm Sandy has led to a collaboration with data scientists focused on accessing geographically linked Twitter data.“We could tell where Twitter users were posting from and decided to use that information to determine locations that could have elevated mental health symptoms,” she says.

When terrorists attacked Paris, Lowe’s team responded with an analysis of Twitter data from Paris during and after the attacks that documented post-attack spatial clusters of fear and sadness.

“We are engaged in work that spans beyond the boundaries of clinical psychology through our cross-disciplinary collaborators…” –Sarah Lowe

“We hope our work, which was published in The Lancet, could be a starting point for researchers to draw on social media to identify geographic areas with enhanced mental health risks after traumatic events and to formulate post-trauma, community-based interventions.

The lab is unique. Says Lowe: “We are engaged in work that spans beyond the boundaries of clinical psychology through our cross-disciplinary collaborators in fields such as psychiatry, epidemiology, public health, biostatistics and sociology.”