Just a Thought: Brooke Ammerman

Author: Katherine O’Neal

Just a Thought: Brooke Ammerman

Brooke Ammerman is an assistant psychology professor at Notre Dame who focuses her clinical research on self-injurious thoughts and behaviors. She started teaching at Notre Dame in 2018 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in Psychology from North Dakota State University, earning a master's degree in clinical science from the University of Northern Iowa, and earning a doctorate in clinical psychology from Temple University, followed by a year-long residency in Seattle.

 

What does your current research consist of?

Currently, the research that we conduct in the Affect, Suicide, Self-Injury and Social Triggers (ASSIST) Lab aims to better understand near-term risk factors that increase the likelihood of thinking about or engaging in self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (i.e., nonsuicidal self-injury, suicidal thinking). Using a combination of research methodologies, like lab-based computer tasks and “real-time” methods that focus on collecting information as an individual goes about their daily life, we hope to translate the information that we learn in the lab to how scenarios play out in real time. We are also interested in self-disclosures of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors. Self-disclosures are the first step in receiving support, yet many individuals do not tell others about their experience. Our research aims to better understand why people choose to disclose, or not to disclose, and how that experience can influence longer-term psychological outcomes.

 

To what extent does your research impact your interactions with college students?

A lot of our research actually centers on the experience of college students. We know that college is a stressful period, both personally and professionally, and that college students are at high-risk for many mental health difficulties, including self-injurious thoughts and behaviors. Some of our research aims to understand how factors like interpersonal stressors and problematic substance use might increase short-term risk for self-injurious thoughts and behaviors during the college years. Because of this work, I try to approach my interactions with students with kindness and compassion — it is quite possible that they are experiencing difficulties (mental health or otherwise) and I hope to create a safe space for them to reach out for help if needed. Beyond this, the ASSIST Lab has created opportunities for students to become involved in the research process. We currently have several undergraduate research assistants in the lab, and I love getting to work with each one of them. I know that being involved in research during my undergraduate years was very formative to my ultimate career path and I hope to be able to pay that forward.

 

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your research? Have you noticed an impact on self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in general?

The current pandemic has certainly impacted our research. We’ve experienced setbacks like any other research lab, but we have also found that some of the changes we had to make resulted in positive outcomes, including increased access to diverse populations by allowing remote sessions (i.e., reducing the need for transportation to our research lab). We also shifted some of our focus to understand how social factors specific to the COVID-19 era, such as isolation and quarantine, might impact the experience of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors. While there has been mixed evidence as to whether the rates of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors have increased throughout the pandemic, it is undeniable that we are facing new challenges as a society and that some of these may represent unique risk factors for mental health difficulties.