State grants $2 million to fuel mental health research

Dianne Price

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There’s little question that an onslaught of societal crises has affected the mental health of people across the nation. Arizona is no exception.

· The Household Pulse Survey that tracks the impact of COVID-19 reports that Arizona ranks in the top 10 of states with the highest proportion of adults with anxiety and depression.

· Data compiled by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security show that Arizona has had 19 school shootings since the 1970s, and four non-school mass shootings since the start of 2022. Arizona ranks 18th in the nation for its firearm death rate of 15.8 of every 100,000 deaths.

The questions raised by COVID-19 – and tragedies like school shootings – are endless. Loneliness, financial uncertainties and grief related to COVID-19 have exacerbated the mental health crisis. New research (June 2022) shows that the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder is 25% higher for those who have contracted the virus. Now, it’s up to researchers to understand why.

Arizona’s research community is playing a key role in the quest for answers. Now, a $2 million grant to the Institute for Mental Health Research (IMHR) from the State of Arizona's medical marijuana fund will fuel the quest to understand ways to improve mental health services, prevention, treatment and education not only in Arizona, but worldwide.

“Arizona’s mental health researchers have stepped up to the plate to deliver answers to these vexing issues,” said Keith Crnic, Ph.D., chief science officer for Arizona’s Institute for Mental Health Research (IMHR). “Effective treatments can only happen when we have a clear understanding of how stressors like COVID-19 and school shootings affect the brain and behavior.”

“We are thrilled that the state has demonstrated confidence in our organization with this grant, and we expect this infusion of funds to result in impactful research that moves the needle to address the questions that have been plaguing so many,” said Mitzi Krockover, M.D., president of the IMHR board. “Discovery through scientific research is essential to delivering solutions that lead to better identification, prevention and treatment of mental illness.”

IMHR will use the state funding to:

· Identify and fund early-stage research

· Share information about discoveries through educational events

· Foster collaboration between scientists

According to the Arizona Health Improvement Plan, state priorities for 2021-2025 include “mental health well-being, health in underserved rural and urban areas and social determinants of health.”

Seed funding allows researchers to obtain the preliminary data they need in order to obtain larger grants from national organizations like the National Institute for Mental Health. According to IMHR, their grants have brought an infusion of research dollars to Arizona, resulting in a 10 to 1 dollar-for-dollar return on investment.

IMHR grants have funded an array of researchers and studies, including:

· Understanding grief, loss and social stress, by Mary-Frances O’Connor, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist at the University of Arizona

· Understanding social withdrawal, anxiety and depression in children, by Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Arizona State University

· Understanding depression and anxiety in aging autism, by Leslie C. Baxter, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist at Mayo Clinic

· Identifying how Arizona’s Hispanic leaders demonstrate resilience, by Felipe González Castro, Ph.D., a professor at Arizona State University

· Understanding the relationship between alcohol and mental health during the transition to college by Jinni Su, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and professor at Arizona State University

· Predicting post-partum depression, by Marlene Freeman, M.D., former director of the Women’s Mental Health Program at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center

· Emotions and homeostasis, by Arthur (Bud) Craig, Ph.D., a neurobiologist at Barrow Neurological Institute

· Alzheimer’s disease and translational neuroscience, by Pierre Tariot, M.D., a psychiatrist and director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute

Launched in 2001 by concerned citizen volunteers with a grant from the state, IMHR was the first of its kind – a nonprofit entity dedicated to advancing knowledge about mental health. Senate Bill 1391 was signed into law by Governor Jane Hull, providing $5 million to be matched by the private sector. IMHR's first major project was launched in partnership with the Early Psychosis Intervention Center (Epicenter) at the University of Arizona, establishing the IMHR Epicenter clinic. At that time, Epicenter was the first clinic of its kind; it has since become self-sufficient and been replicated across the nation. Since its inception, the organization has granted more than $2 million to over 50 researchers from 10 institutions and organizations in the state.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTE FOR MENTAL HEALTH RESEARCH

The Institute for Mental Health Research (IMHR) works to advance research in Arizona in order to help improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and ultimately, cures for brain and behavior disorders. As the first state-wide privately funded organization of its kind in the nation, IMHR has provided more than $2 million to more than 50 researcher funds since its inception in 2001. IMHR goals are to 1) fund early-stage research that helps Arizona scientists attract additional funds from national organizations; 2) foster collaboration among researchers, educators and health care professionals; and 3) share knowledge and information to advance the mental and emotional wellbeing of people in Arizona and beyond.

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Dianne Price has a professional passion for bringing stories about health, medicine, science, and mental health to life. Her personal passion focuses on how the arts can elicit creativity, curiosity and joy.

Fountain Hills, AZ
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