Research News

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Early Qualitative Research of AI-Driven Mental Health Therapy

Jan 26 2024
In a recent qualitative study, researchers explored the feasibility of artificial intelligence (AI) as a source of mental health support. Fourteen participants with mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression engaged in one immersive virtual reality therapy session with an AI therapy avatar. Participants overall considered the digital avatar empathetic, understanding, and supportive of a therapeutic relationship, but some indicated a preference for the deeper engagement possible with a human therapist. Personal comfort with AI varies and more research is needed to determine clinical effectiveness, but AI-driven therapy may one day represent another tool to support mental health. To learn more, see the study in npj Digital Medicine.

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Ethnoracial Representation in Psychosis Research

Jan 11 2024
Inclusion of BIPOC individuals (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) in clinical research is critical for understanding how conditions develop in different populations. In a systematic review, researchers explored participant data from 12 North American multisite research studies of clinical high risk for psychosis and first episode psychosis (FEP). Most ethnoracial groups were appropriately represented in high risk studies based on their share of the U.S. population; Black participants were overrepresented in FEP studies. Inclusion of BIPOC individuals in both types of studies is encouraging, but opportunities exist to most effectively incorporate diverse backgrounds into psychosis research. To learn more, see the study in Psychiatric Services.

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Large Study Finds Semaglutide Medications Associated with Lower Risk for Suicidal Ideation than Other Obesity and Diabetes Drugs

Jan 05 2024
Amidst increasing popularity of semaglutide medications such as Wegovy and Ozempic, concerns have been raised that the glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor (GLP1R) agonist medications may increase suicidal thoughts. In a recent study, researchers analyzed electronic health records for 240,000 people being treated for excess weight or obesity with either semaglutide or a non-GLP1R medication. Treatment with semaglutide was associated with lower risk for suicidal ideation compared to non-GLP1R medications across demographic groups. Findings were replicated in 1.5 million people with type 2 diabetes being treated to lower blood pressure. To learn more, see the study in Nature.

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SAMHSA Releases 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report

Nov 13 2023
In November, SAMHSA released results from the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annual, nationally representative survey on mental health, treatment rates, substance use, and more. Among U.S. adults, 23.1% experienced any mental illness (AMI) in the past year while 6% experienced serious mental illness (SMI). Half (50.6%) of adults with AMI and two thirds (66.7%) of adults with SMI received mental health treatment in the past year. New to the NSDUH, the 2022 report also includes use of non-treatment services: 12.3% of adults received services from a support group and 6.4% engaged with a peer support specialist or recovery coach. To learn more, see the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report.  

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Survey of Patient and Family Perspectives to Inform Clinical Research in Serious Mental Illness

Oct 29 2023
Engagement and retention of participants in clinical mental illness research studies can be low. To better understand the perspectives of direct stakeholders, researchers surveyed individuals diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum condition (SSC) and caregivers of a family member with a SSC regarding their knowledge, comfort, concerns and preferences related to mental illness clinical research. 67 individuals with a diagnosis and 131 caregivers were include in the final analysis. Overall, individuals with a diagnosis and caregivers were interested in engaging with clinical research. While respondents expressed discomfort with certain research procedures, the authors demonstrate that educational materials tailored to the concerns voiced by these populations may increase meaningful engagement. To learn more, see the study in Psychiatry Research.   

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Ecological Restoration as a Means of Justice Diversion and Mental Health Treatment

Oct 04 2023
In an innovative justice diversion project, individuals with serious mental illness were tasked with restoring the landscape of community housing as part of their community-based competency restoration. Participants attended educational workshops, received hands-on training, visited a national forest, and were encouraged to take on leadership roles. After one year, participants had created and taken responsibility for maintaining a successful urban garden. Participants report that gardening has given them a purpose and the ability to create something beautiful, which positively impacts their mental health. Project collaborators also note that the low cost, broad benefits, and easy replicability of the intervention make it a promising new psychiatric treatment modality. To learn more, read the article at Psychiatric Services.

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Collaborating with Mental Health Influencers for Public Mental Health

Oct 03 2023
In a unique new study, Boston and Harvard University public health researchers recruited 105 TikTok mental health content creators with diverse professional backgrounds and lived experience to receive evidence-based mental health communication training. Creators received either digital toolkits or toolkits plus live virtual training sessions. While review of digital toolkits alone more significantly increased creators’ use of evidence-based themes in their content, both types of training combined led to greater visibility of evidence-based mental health content across TikTok overall. The project highlights the potential of public-academic collaborations to mitigate mental health misinformation with scalable impacts. To learn more, view the preprint here.

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ED Visits for Substance Use as a Risk Factor for Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders 

Sep 27 2023
Research suggests that experiencing substance-induced psychosis increases the risk of developing a schizophrenia spectrum disorder (SSD), but less is known about substance use without psychosis. In a study including 10 million people, Canadian researchers found that individuals with an emergency department visit for substance-induced psychosis were 163 times more likely than the general population to develop a SSD within three years. However, visits for substance use without psychosis occurred more often and were associated with a higher absolute number of transitions to SSD. The findings emphasize the importance of early intervention for substance use concerns – with or without psychosis – to decrease risk of schizophrenia and related conditions. To learn more, see the study in JAMA.

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Written Exposure Therapy for the Treatment of PTSD

Aug 23 2023
A randomized clinical trial of 178 veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that written exposure therapy (WET) had similar effects in reducing symptoms as the traditionally used prolonged exposure therapy (PE). Veterans received either five to seven sessions of WET or eight to fifteen sessions of the lengthier PE treatment, and were assessed at baseline, 10, 20, and 30 weeks after the initial treatment session. Improvements in symptom severity from baseline to all later assessments were similar among Veterans receiving WET and PE, with the largest difference favoring WET at 10 weeks. Furthermore, veterans receiving WET were less likely to stop treatment, suggesting it may reduce barriers to engagement associated with other interventions. To learn more, read the article in JAMA.

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FDA Approves Pill for Postpartum Depression

Aug 04 2023
The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first oral medication, Zurzuvae , for the treatment of postpartum depression (PPD). Onset of PPD can occur during the late stages of pregnancy or after childbirth. Previously, PDD medication was only available via IV injection from a health care provider. The effectiveness of Zurzuvae was tested against placebos in two distinct, randomized, double-blind studies for a period of 14 days. In both studies, patients taking Zurzuvae showed a more significant decrease in depressive symptoms at study conclusion, and four weeks after, compared to placebo groups. The approval goes a long way in improving accessibility of PPD treatment for the many individuals the condition affects each year. To learn more, read the news release from the FDA.