Research Highlight: Transforming Mental Health Care Through ALACRITY
In 2018, 11.4 million adults in the United States experienced a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, severe bipolar disorder, and severe depression. People with severe emotional disturbance or serious mental illness can experience functional impairments and disabilities, which substantially interfere with their lives. They are also at higher risk for other health conditions—such as cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases, diabetes, and hypertension—and shorter lifespans.
To prevent and treat mental illnesses, interventions and therapies need to be tested and put to use in clinical and other real-world settings. A key component of research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) focuses on service research, which has the potential to impact patients, families, and communities in the near-term.
NIMH, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded more than 10 million dollars in fiscal year 2019 to help speed the translation of research findings into improved mental health care in clinics and communities. The awards support the Accelerating the Reach and Impact of Treatments for Youth and Adults with Mental Illness (ALACRITY) Research Center program, which aims to transform care for children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbance and adults with serious mental illness.
Initiated by the NIMH Division of Services and Intervention Research (DSIR), ALACRITY supports eight Centers across the country. Each Center and research team is focused on underserved populations urgently in need of mental health care. Teams include clinical and mental health services researchers, behavioral and social scientists, health information and communications technologists, health systems engineers, and other specialists. Each individual Center pursues its own combination of mental health services research and research on preventive and therapeutic interventions. All of the Centers focus on a range of populations and span a variety of settings where services are delivered.
The Centers include:
- ASSIST (Accelerator Strategies in States to Improve System Transformations Affecting Children, Youth and Families) at New York University, which is focusing on state policymakers responsible for the mental health needs of children, adolescents, and their families. The research team is surveying decision-makers in all 50 states to learn how to best deliver scientific information to them.
- Center for Enhancing Triage and Utilization for Depression and Emergency Suicidality (ETUDES) in Pediatric Primary Care at the University of Pittsburgh, where the researchers are studying ways to improve suicide and depression screening in pediatric primary care settings.
- ALACRITY for Late and Mid-Life Mood Disorders center at Cornell University, where the research team is studying a new model for developing behavioral interventions to improve the care of older and middle-aged adults with mood disorders treated in the community.
- ALACRITY Center for Psychosocial Interventions Research at the University of Washington, where the research team is studying ways to train non-experts to deliver therapies for depression in underserved communities.
- Transforming Mental Health Delivery Through Behavioral Economics and Implementation Science at the University of Pennsylvania, a research center that is using behavioral economics and implementation science expertise to improve care for both children and adults with mental illnesses.
- Center to Accelerate Translation of Interventions to Decrease Premature Mortality in Severe Mental Illness at Johns Hopkins University, where the research team is studying smoking cessation, weight loss, and diabetes care programs designed to help adults with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses avoid developing cardiovascular disease – a frequent side-effect of antipsychotic medication.
- Laboratory for Early Psychosis Research (LEAP) center at Harvard University’s McLean Hospital, which is evaluating ways to improve the effectiveness of coordinated specialty care for patients with first- episode psychosis at clinics throughout Massachusetts.
- Optimizing and Personalizing Interventions for Schizophrenia Across the Lifespan (OPAL) center at Columbia University, where the research team is working to speed the translation of clinical research into personalized treatments for people with schizophrenia in a real-world setting.
The ALACRITY Centers are intended to serve as incubators for innovative research ideas and new transdisciplinary collaborations. The collaboration across new and emerging fields and the engagement with stakeholders – consumers, families, providers, administrators, payers, policymakers – are cornerstones of this effort. Through ALACRITY, NIMH aims to support research that could transform the treatment and service delivery in the very near future.
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