Social Support and Social Isolation in Psychiatric Disorders
I have led several studies that demonstrate the potent influence of social contact and relationships on the risk for and course of psychiatric disorders. This body of work has often used longitudinal observational data to demonstrate the beneficial impact of social support, as well as the detrimental influence of negative social interactions. Results have focused, in particular, on major depressive disorder and suicide risk. This work has been highlighted by national media multiple times.
suicide prevention in at-risk health populations
I have examined several aspects relevant to improving suicide prevention, including examining the accuracy of methods to identify individuals at risk for suicide and suicide attempts, and exploring how social support and social networks can be effectively used to mitigate risk of suicide. Thus far, I have focused on applications in two distinct, at-risk communities: military veterans and ethnic minorities. The work with veterans is directly applicable to intervention development in real-world, complex health care systems (e.g., the VA), and the work in ethnic minorities has included community-based outreach.
USe of social media for mental health outreach and engagement
Within the broader area of mental health aspects of social media use, I have conducted research focusing on the examination of social media platforms as a contemporary vehicle for communication and social connection. My work in this area tries to identify opportunities to harness the positive role of social media while minimizing potential harms, with a specific goal of promoting enhanced mental health treatment engagement. Some of my research has studied whether and how Facebook can be used to reach otherwise hard-to-reach populations such as veterans at risk for suicide. Other studies have examined tendencies toward help-seeking and exchange of social support on social media platforms.
Hikikomori and social withdrawal across culture
As one way to understand how social relationships impact mental health, my work has examined an extreme variant of social withdrawal called hikikomori. These publications provided a cogent review of the extant literature, identified pressing research gaps and questions based on my synthesis of the literature, and contributed some of the very first peer-reviewed research studies on hikikomori in the English medical literature. This work has been widely disseminated by national and international media, established my reputation as an international expert on hikikomori, and inspired interest amongst a new generation of researchers in the nascent field.