Drs. Sullivan and Velez-Grau Awarded Seed Grants for Upstream Research

Drs. Sullivan and Velez-Grau Image
Dr. Kathrine Sullivan and Dr. Carolina Vélez-Grau

Assistant Professor Kathrine Sullivan and Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow/Assistant Professor Carolina Vélez-Grau have been awarded grants from the NYU Silver Dean’s Upstream Research Seed Fund for their respective projects entitled “Preventing Adverse Health Outcomes Among Military Families: The Role of Protective Factors,” and “Belongingness and Burdensomeness Through the Eyes of Black and Latinx Adolescents.”

The purpose of the Dean’s Upstream Research Seed Fund is to support faculty members’ early scientific activity that advances knowledge in the fields of social work and prevention science more generally, and that offers high promise of yielding new evidence-based prevention strategies addressing concerns of the social work profession and those whom it serves.

Dr. Sullivan’s project explores mechanisms of resilience in military families in light of the evidence suggesting a significant subset of military spouses and children experience adverse outcomes associated with wartime military family life, including distress, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, substance use, and suicidality. Using data collected by the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, her study will employ latent profile analysis and a cumulative stress approach to explore patterns of risk factors that are associated with poor mental health outcomes for military spouses and to identify key protective factors, which may buffer them against risk and offer possible avenues for prevention.

According to Dr. Sullivan, “Military spouses are described as the foundation of resilience processes in their families; a focus on factors influencing their outcomes has direct relevance to understanding the health of military families more broadly.” She added that her study is particularly timely since the military hierarchy is increasingly recognizing that reducing risk exposure alone is unlikely to completely address concerns about the wellbeing of service members or their families and may not be feasible, as some risk is likely inherent to military service. “Instead,” she said, “the Department of Defense is in the process of shifting funding priorities to projects aimed at preventing adverse outcomes among service members and their families. Building upon the proposed project, I hope to be well positioned to address these evolving funding priorities to better meet the needs of service members and their families.”

Dr. Vélez-Grau's project aims to understand interpersonal factors that are associated with suicide ideation, or thoughts of suicide, among racial/ethnic minority adolescents in order to inform suicide preventive approaches for this high-risk population. Based on the interpersonal theory of suicide, which postulates that feeling disconnected from and a burden to others motivates the desire to die, her new study will use qualitative methods to understand the meaning that Black and Latinx adolescents ascribe to connectedness and burdensomeness and the people and or circumstances that foster or hamper the development of these interpersonal constructs. In particular, it will explore whether social media influences their feelings of belongingness and burdensomeness.

Dr. Vélez-Grau cited recent studies finding racial and ethnic minority youth are disproportionally affected by suicide ideation and attempts, which are the strongest predictors of death by suicide. “If suicide is considered as a continuum where suicidal ideation antecedes suicide attempts,” she said, “it is plausible to target factors associated with suicidal ideation to prevent more acute behaviors from happening. This grant from the Dean's Upstream Research Seed Fund will allow me to learn about adolescents' daily knowledge of what it means to belong and to matter. Hearing the voices of the adolescents to whom these interventions would potentially be delivered is an essential first step to develop effective, culturally and developmentally relevant preventive strategies to reduce suicide risk.”