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New Faculty Friday: Sarah Lowe, clinical psychologist, trauma expert, cat rescuer

September 27, 2019

The Yale School of Public Health proudly welcomes 13 new tenure-track faculty this academic year. These individuals bring a broad range of research, scholarship and teaching expertise to the school and will be instrumental in helping us address many of the public health challenges of the 21st century. 

Today we spotlight Sarah Lowe, assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Sarah holds a Ph.D. (2012) and an M.A. (2008) in clinical psychology from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She has a B.A. in psychology from Harvard University. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the Psychiatric Epidemiology Training program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a predoctoral fellow at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College.

Q: Describe your primary academic focus or research specialty?

SL: My research centers on the long-term mental health consequences of traumatic and stressful life events. I have a particular interest in exploring mental health after mass trauma – events like environmental disasters and mass shootings that affect not just individuals, but entire communities. Oftentimes, these events are followed by an immediate outpouring of resources, support, and attention, but how do survivors fare in the longer term?

In my research, I aim to document the varying patterns of mental health symptoms – including PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance use – over time. What proportion of survivors are resilient, never exhibiting any post-trauma symptomatology? What proportion of those who are initially symptomatic will recover? What proportion will sustain symptom elevations even years after the event? In addition to documenting these trajectories, my work examines factors at various ecological levels – from genetics to neighborhoods – that shape responses over time.

I am interested in both how risk factors combine to confer risk, as well as what factors are on the pathway from exposure to long-term symptomatology. Finally, I seek to look beyond individual responses to how post-trauma mental health manifests in communities, for example examining geospatial concentrations of adverse responses and community-level risk and protective factors.

Q: What are your long-term goals in public health? 

SL: I hope that my work supports policies and practices that reduce exposure to potentially traumatic events in the first place, by showing the long-term psychological – as well as physical, social, and economic – toll that they have on individuals and society. Research in this area can also help elucidate who might be at greatest risk of exposure and thereby inform primary prevention efforts. 

To the extent that these events are unavoidable, however, I would like for my work to help reduce their psychological impact. By knowing which survivors are vulnerable to adversity, we can more efficiently allocate scarce resources. Insight into the pathways leading to long-term symptoms can further help identify appropriate intervention targets at various time points in the aftermath of trauma and disaster.

Q: How will the resources available at the Yale School of Public Health help you achieve your goals?

SL: I am thrilled to be joining the YSPH community, and see it is as an ideal context to achieve my research objectives. The breadth and depth of faculty expertise is extraordinary, and I look forward to collaborating with faculty members who have complementary interests – for example, those focusing on mass violence, climate change and health, psychiatric genetics, neighborhood influences, and public health modeling.

I have also been deeply impressed by the professionalism and knowledge of the administrative staff, who are invaluable to any research endeavor. Finally, YSPH attracts talented and diverse MPH and doctoral students, who I am eager to engage in my research program.

Q: Tell us something about yourself away from public health (E.g., hobbies, interests, pursuits, etc.).

 SL: My greatest joy is spending time with my 2-year old son, Casey, who is currently in the midst of dual Cars and Paw Patrol obsessions. I have thus spent a lot of time learning the names of various race cars and considering the social hierarchy of community-serving pups lately.

When we can drag Casey away from his toys and the television, my husband and I love taking him to new places, whether a museum, library, beach or park. We also have a cat named Tuly, who we rescued off of the streets of Jersey City, NJ – where we lived for four years before moving to Connecticut this summer.

Submitted by Sayuri Gavaskar on September 27, 2019