A Shorter—but Effective—Treatment for PTSD

First-line treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often require many treatment sessions and delivery by extensively trained therapists. Now, research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has shown that a shorter therapy may be just as effective as lengthier first-line treatments. The study appeared in the March 2018 issue of JAMA Psychiatry.

First-line treatments for PTSD consist of psychotherapies that focus on exposure and/or cognitive restructuring. One such therapy is cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which is widely acknowledged as an effective treatment for PTSD. Patients being treated with CPT take part in 12 weekly therapy sessions that are delivered by a highly-trained practitioner. During these sessions, patients learn to recognize and challenge dysfunctional thoughts about their traumatic event, themselves, others, and the world. In addition, patients are given homework to complete between sessions.

Full story at NIMH

New Processing Technique Helps Researchers Use Electronic Health Records to Study Biological Contributors to Mental Illnesses

Researchers have found a way to scan electronic health records (EHRs) that helps identify associations between broad dimensions of behavioral function and genes relevant to mental disorders. Use of the technique opens an enormous source of data to researchers who are interested in taking a dimensional approach to the study of mental illnesses instead of using traditional diagnostic categories. The study, funded in part by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), was published online February 26, 2018 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

As medicine has entered the digital age, the use of electronic systems for managing health data has skyrocketed. These electronic health records provide a trove of information for researchers who want to understand factors that contribute to health and illness.

Full story at NIMH

Hubs Help Native American Communities Address Youth Suicide

Three NIMH-funded collaborative research hubs are exploring the factors behind the high suicide rates among American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) youth and designing and testing approaches to preventing suicide. In each hub, research centers and tribal or urban AI/AN leaders and organizations are working together to provide information on which to base effective, community-based, and culturally sensitive preventive approaches that are suitable for use in low-resource settings.

AI/AN youth have suicide rates that are among the highest of any demographic group in the U.S.; based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of suicide in the AI/AN population have been increasing since 2003. Suicide rates vary among communities, however, and the reasons for the variation are not clear. One of the goals of the work is to explore elements that promote resilience, including the degree of adherence to cultural spirituality, community engagement, and participation in traditional practices.

Full story at NIMH

Hubs Help Native American Communities Address Youth Suicide

Three NIMH-funded collaborative research hubs are exploring the factors behind the high suicide rates among American Indian (AI) and Alaska Native (AN) youth and designing and testing approaches to preventing suicide. In each hub, research centers and tribal or urban AI/AN leaders and organizations are working together to provide information on which to base effective, community-based, and culturally sensitive preventive approaches that are suitable for use in low-resource settings.

AI/AN youth have suicide rates that are among the highest of any demographic group in the U.S.; based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates of suicide in the AI/AN population have been increasing since 2003. Suicide rates vary among communities, however, and the reasons for the variation are not clear. One of the goals of the work is to explore elements that promote resilience, including the degree of adherence to cultural spirituality, community engagement, and participation in traditional practices.

Full story at nimh.gov

Suspect Molecules Overlap in Autism, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder

Evidence has been mounting that some mental disorders share many of the same genetic risk factors. Now, researchers have discovered that this overlap extends to the molecular level – some of these suspect genes also turn on-and-off similarly in the brains of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. These molecular signatures may hold clues to what goes wrong in the brain in these disorders—and potentially ways to better treat or even prevent them.

In search of such clues, Drs. Daniel Geschwind and Michael Gandalof the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and colleagues, examined gene expression in postmortem brains of people who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or alcoholism. One of the largest such efforts of its kind to date, the study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), tapped brain molecular data resources gathered through the NIMH-funded PsychENCODE consortium, a data-sharing collaboration among NIMH grantees.

Full story at NIMH

NIMH Twitter Chat on Seasonal Affective Disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) are co-hosting a Twitter chat to discuss Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The chat will take place Tuesday, February 20, 2018, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET.

SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. This chat will cover SAD signs and symptoms, risk factors, and treatments and therapies. Two experts will be available to answer questions:

  • Matthew Rudorfer, M.D., Somatic Treatments and Psychopharmacology Program Chief, NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research
  • David Shurtleff, Ph.D., Acting Director, NCCIH

For more information visit NIMH

Mental Illnesses by the Numbers

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has launched a redesigned Statistics section on its website that features interactive data visualization tools and sharing capabilities. The section also features improved organization, navigation, and accessibility. The goal: To help people understand the impact of mental illnesses.

“There is power in numbers,” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH. “Mental illnesses affect tens of millions of people in the United States and across the globe each year. Each of these individuals has a singular, compelling story that conveys an understanding of the depth of suffering. Statistics build on this foundation by helping us better understand the broader scope and impact of mental illnesses on society.”

Full story at NIMH

Molecular secrets revealed: Antipsychotic docked in its receptor

Antipsychotic drugs — which transformed mental health care following their chance discovery in the mid-20th Century — may finally be poised for a long-overdue makeover incorporating structure-based design. Scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health have achieved a landmark of psychiatric neuropharmacology: deciphering the molecular structure of a widely prescribed antipsychotic docked in its key receptor. They are hopeful that this discovery may hold secrets to designing better treatments for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.

“For the first time, we can understand precisely how atypical antipsychotic drugs bind to their primary molecular target in the human brain,” explained Dr. Laurie Nadler, chief of the neuropharmacology program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which co-funded the study along with the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Cancer Institute. “This discovery opens the way for the rational design of a new generation of antipsychotic drugs, hopefully with more desirable effects and fewer side effects.”

Full story at Science Daily

Lack of sleep increases a child’s risk for emotional disorders later

When asked how lack of sleep affects emotions, common responses are usually grumpy, foggy and short-tempered. While many jokes are made about how sleep deprivation turns the nicest of people into a Jekyll and Hyde, not getting enough shut-eye can lead to far more serious consequences than irritability, difficulty concentrating and impatience.

Candice Alfano, a clinical psychologist and associate psychology professor at the University of Houston, says children who experience inadequate or disrupted sleep are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders later in life. Funded by a grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the study seeks to determine the precise ways inadequate sleep in childhood produces elevated risk for emotional disorders in later years.

“In particular, we are interested in understanding how children appraise, express, regulate and later recall emotional experiences, both when sleep is adequate and when it is inadequate,” said Alfano, who is the principal investigator of the study and director of the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston (SACH). “We focus on childhood, because similar to problems with anxiety and depression, sleep habits and patterns develop early in life and can be enduring.”

Full story of lack of sleep and children emotional disorder at Science Daily

How Might New Neurons Buffer Against Stress?

Over the past decade or so, evidence has emerged suggesting that the birth of new neurons in the adult brain’s memory hub, or hippocampus, may play a key role the action of antidepressants, resilience to stress, the benefits of exercise and enriched environments and preventing memory loss. But understanding how it might work has remained elusive.

Heather Cameron,Ph.D., chief of the NIMH intramural Unit on Neuroplasticity, discussed findings of ongoing studies on the function of adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus at a research symposium held in March, in conjunction with the formal dedication of the Porter Neuroscience Research Center on the NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, where her lab is located.

Full story on neurons and stress at NIMH