Despite how common mental health conditions are, people who live with them still face an incredible amount of stigma. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 43.4 million adults in the United States — almost 18 percent — deal with some form of mental illness every year. Yet research shows that only a quarter of them believe that other people are caring and sympathetic toward mental health issues.
Some of the most common mental health conditions include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia. These conditions are often complex and can affect each individual in a different way. That’s why treatment plans based on a person’s needs are helpful for managing the condition.
But recovery is possible, and with the right treatment, most people with mental health issues can live healthy and productive lives. For the well-being of our society overall, continued research in mental health is extremely important.
Here are three fresh faces paving the way for new research in their field.
Anna Baker has always been interested in the overlap between mental health, people's behaviors, and their overall health. Because, as it turns out, these things are pretty connected. Even though medical science has made advancements in treatment options, many people still struggle with preventable and treatable conditions. Anna wants to find ways to make it easier for people to effectively use the healthcare system, as well as manage the issues which can make it harder to prioritize getting the treatment they need.
Currently an assistant professor of psychology at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where she teaches four courses, Anna’s impressive resume includes a PhD in clinical psychology and a postdoctoral research fellowship at Johns Hopkins.
As a researcher, she focuses on how people’s behaviors and decisions can positively or negatively impact their health, and the ways in which medical systems respond to mental and behavioral health issues with treatment. “I think that in the future we will use research to guide how to make changes in the healthcare system and develop programs that can help patients do what is needed for better health,” she says. “I hope that my research will aid this process by figuring out how to make it easier for patients to take care of themselves the best way possible.”
Anna has studied people of all ages. She’s especially interested in how people and families who deal with chronic conditions can overcome barriers to following doctor-recommended treatments.
In a healthcare system where many don’t get access to the care they need, Anna’s research is especially important. She believes that in the future, research will be used to guide changes in the healthcare system, developing programs to help people take care of themselves and maintain better health.
Wendy Ingram’s path started with the desire to help those dealing with mental illness live better lives. At first, she wanted to be a psychiatrist, but says she was disappointed to learn there isn’t a lot of existing information about causes and treatments for common conditions. That’s when Wendy discovered a passion for biochemistry and decided to become a researcher.
Wendy earned a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied Toxoplasma gondii — a brain parasite which mice and humans can get from cats. Currently, Wendy holds two roles: as a psychiatric epidemiology postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and as a computational biology postdoctoral fellow at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania.
Wendy uses “big data” from electronic medical records, genetic information, and available social media to examine mood disorders, like depression. She looks for patterns to learn how they begin, how they affect people’s daily health, and which treatments are effective. She recently reported a discovery that in a 10-year period, people with depression are five times more likely to be prescribed both pain killers (narcotics) and anti-anxiety medication — a combination that can be deadly — than those without depression. Discoveries like these can save lives by making sure people with depression aren’t given both types of drugs.
In order to effectively treat mental illness, Wendy believes there are lots of obstacles modern medicine and society need to overcome. She points to stigma and people avoiding care or getting denied until a condition gets out of control as two major issues. “Directly addressing mental illnesses holds the potential to not only alleviate the disability associated with these illnesses themselves — which is substantial — but also to improve all other forms of health in the process,” she says.
As a researcher, Wendy’s hope is to uncover new discoveries that will help people with anxiety, depression, bipolar, and other chronic mental illnesses have access to better treatments.
Christine Vinci chose to get her degree in clinical psychology so she could help reduce people’s suffering. She’s especially interested in human behavior when it comes to using substances, like alcohol and cigarettes, which are known to be harmful. It is very important to develop the right types of treatment in order to help people change these behaviors. Christine has dedicated her career to developing such treatments.
Christine earned a PhD in clinical psychology from Louisiana State University and completed her fellowship at both the University of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University. Today, Christine is an assistant member at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.
Behaviors such as smoking cigarettes and drinking a lot of alcohol can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Christine’s research at Moffitt focuses on cancer prevention by learning how to get people to change these behaviors. Currently, her focus is on how mindfulness-based skills can be used as part of treatment when it comes to breaking these sorts of habit-based behaviors. “One of the many reasons I am interested in studying mindfulness is related to the impact it can have on the entire person, and not just the behavior he/she is trying to change,” she says.
The more she discovers about the thought process and factors affecting behavior change, the easier she hopes to make stopping harmful behaviors. Christine’s research aims for these treatments to be effective for everyone, including underserved groups.