My research in mental health began in 1989 with a series of studies on Expressed Emotion, an attitude in families that was presumed to be stressful to patients with schizophrenia. After several cross-sectional and quasi-experimental studies we concluded that the High EE family attitudes that predict relapse are, in fact, the effect on the family of living with a relapse-prone patient.
This work led me an interest in the causes of schizophrenia, with the idea that different patterns of genetic and environmental causes could produce the different types of symptom profiles to which families react. This began the EnviroGen research program, in which we were assessing as many known genetic and environmental risk factors for schizophrenia as possible. One of those risk factors is a major stressor in pregnancy, so we were interviewing the mothers of schizophrenia patients about stressful situation they could have faced during their pregnancies 20-40 years earlier.
Given the lab’s interest in stress, we took advantage of a local natural disaster to begin a new and unique project. When the ice storms of January 1998 plunged more than 3 million Quebecers into darkness for as long as 45 days, we seized the opportunity to study the effects of stress on pregnant women, their pregnancies, and their unborn children. We have been following a group of 150 families, in which the mother was pregnant during the ice storm or became pregnant shortly thereafter, in order to observe the immediate effects of different levels and types of stress on the unborn children.
We have added two other prenatal maternal stress studies to our program that we now call SPIRAL: Stress i Pregnancy International Research ALliance. The Iowa Flood Study (June 2008 flooding in Iowa, USA) and QF2011 (women pregnant during the 2011 floods in Queensland, Australia).