As we near the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, the CTSI would like to highlight some mental health research projects it has funded in the past 10 years.
Mental Health Awareness Month is the longest running national initiative of Mental Health America. Every May since 1949, has been dedicated to fighting damaging stigma about mental illnesses while fostering awareness that these illnesses are real and treatable. The organization also provides tools to help connect people in need with services and treatment for their mental illnesses.
The following are just a sampling of the many mental health research projects the CTSI has supported.
In 2014, Megan Lytle, Ph.D., senior instructor of Psychiatry Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center, was funded by the KL2 Career Development Program to investigate health disparities in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities with a focus on suicide prevention. While the precursor risks for suicide are similar among different groups, members of diverse LGBT populations tend to have a high burden for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
Lytle and her mentor, Vincent Silenzio, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Psychiatry Research, Family Medicine, and Public Health Sciences at URMC, delved into the racial, ethnic, and religious diversity within the LGBT community. Across the board, LGB individuals were more likely than heterosexuals to report self-harm, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and depression. They also found that transgender individuals, were at higher risk for suicidal behaviors – especially if they also identified as LGB or a racial/ethnic minority.
Another KL2 scholar, Anthony R. Pisani, Ph.D, associate professor of Psychiatry (Psychology) and Pediatrics at URMC, investigated the role of emotion regulation and connectedness at home, school, and community in adolescent suicide attempts.
Under the mentorship of Peter Wyman, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry at URMC, Pisani found that students from rural and underserved areas who had strategies for recovering from emotional upset and connections with ‘trusted adults’ across different settings in their lives had few suicide attempts. This finding built on Pisani’s previous work showing that, among students who had seriously considered suicide, there was a greater likelihood of disclosing thoughts and seeking help if students held positive social norms about help-seeking and about the capability of adults at school to help students with serious problems. Most notably, these norms predicted help-seeking disclosure even after controlling for depression and demographic factors. These studies helped to bring a greater attention to social factors in adolescent suicide, where the focus traditionally has been on individual factors or symptoms.
Kimberly Van Orden, Ph.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry Research at URMC, was also funded by a KL2 award in 2012 to study the role of social connectedness in preventing late-life suicide under the mentorship of Yeates Conwell, M.D., professor of Geriatric Psychiatry at URMC. Van Orden has found that suicide among the elderly may be linked to feelings of loneliness and perceiving themselves to be a burden on others, and that increasing social connectedness may combat this. She is currently testing interventions to target loneliness and perceived burden, including peer companionship and psychotherapy.
The CTSI has also funded – and is currently funding – research regarding the mental health of the elderly.
Currently, KL2 scholar Beau Abar, Ph.D., assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at URMC, is trying to identify and eliminate barriers to treatment for depression in older adults. His work is focused on testing a variety of barriers to care for depression using an experimental design.
Adam Simning, M.D., Ph.D., Psychiatry resident at URMC, performed a cross-sectional study of 190 public housing residents 60 years and older in Rochester for his Ph.D. dissertation, which was funded by the CTSI and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Under the mentorship of Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., associate professor of Public Health Sciences, and Yeates Conwell, M.D., professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Simning found that mental illness was common among older adults in Rochester public housing, but was largely untreated. Based on their findings, Dr. Simning recommended multidisciplinary collaborative care approaches to address these complex issues in the future.