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Sarah Lowe, PhD, on a Public Health Approach to Mental Health

Sarah Lowe, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Yale School of Public Health. Her research focuses on the long-term mental health consequences of a range of potentially traumatic events, from hurricanes to pandemics. 

While doing her clinical training with trauma survivors at a community health care center in Boston, Lowe's patients were dealing with more immediate life stressors, like not having a place to live. 

"That showed me that you can't understand mental health without paying attention to the context and the social and economic stressors that trauma survivors face," she says. Lowe explains that within public health "we're able to look at those things simultaneously. So both the symptoms and treating symptoms but also thinking about systems and policies that both put people at risk for trauma, but then make their traumatic experiences even more negatively impactful." 

As a disaster mental health researcher, Lowe immediately knew the COVID-19 pandemic was going to be a mental health crisis. She's collaborated with students and other faculty on work related to the pandemic and mental health, particularly the mental health burden of health care workers on the frontlines. 

"I can say in this pandemic, Yale was able to provide support to me and to my colleagues to do really cutting-edge research. Just observing my colleagues  on the forefront of the response to the pandemic doing things like modeling transmission, understanding the genetics of the virus, that's been really really inspiring to see."

Mental Health

Nearly 1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness in their lifetimes. The sheer burden of mental illness on the global population demands effective and efficient public health approaches to assessment and intervention. Faculty, researchers, and students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences apply innovative, community-based methods to the prevention and treatment of mental illness across the life course. Using longitudinal and experimental methods, we seek to understand the interplay of mental health with substance use (Lowe, White), aging (Levy), physical health conditions (Lowe), and the factors shaping psychological resilience after exposure to traumatic and stressful life events (Lowe, Tebes). We use psychophysiological approaches to examine the mental and physical health consequences of caregiving (Monin). Our interventions take advantage of emerging technologies (Hagaman, Kershaw, Pachankis). We work with community-based organizations to uncover the influence of maternal depression on birth outcomes and parenting (Hagaman), improve detection and prevention interventions to reduce suicidality (Hagaman), to explore transgenerational impact of mental distress including the impacts on children and families in Pakistan and Nepal (Hagaman) and to implement community interventions for preventing substance use among adolescents and promoting resilience among trauma survivors (Tebes).

Faculty of Interest