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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia Mental Health Initiatives

Columbia Mailman School’s Global Mental Health Program (GMHP), a collaboration of various schools on the Columbia University Medical Center campus, aims to advance the field of global mental health by building research ties in low and middle income countries, offering training opportunities, and raising awareness about mental illnesses. Led by Dr. Kathleen Pike with co-directors Dr. Harold Pincus, Dr. Ezra Susser, Dr. Milton Wainberg, and Dr. Lena Verdeli from the departments of psychiatry, epidemiology and psychology, the program has faculty engaged in research and training programs in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.  In addition, Drs. Pike and Susser have been part of the Fundamental Sustainable Development Goals initiative, a global team advocating for mental health to be included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

This year the Global Mental Health Program was named a WHO Collaborating Centre. For further information about the GMHP, visit:

Dr. Lawrence H. Yang, associate professor of epidemiology, was awarded a five-year NIMH R01 grant examining cognition and clinical characteristics of untreated psychosis in China. He is co-leading this investigation with Dr. Michael Phillips and collaborating with Dr. Ezra Susser on the capacity building component in China to provide training for the treatment of first-episode psychosis. The project will recruit the largest sample of untreated psychosis to date.

Dr. Yang is also examining the neurocognitive and social cognitive underpinnings of the newly established, “clinical high risk state for psychosis” diagnosis via a second five-year NIMH R01 funded project. He recently published the first detailed study of stigma among youth at a “clinical high risk state for psychosis (CHR) which shows that Identifying youth as at risk for mental problems may be less stigmatizing than the symptoms. Stemming from these findings, Dr. Yang received a pilot grant from the McKenzie Foundation to implement and test a stigma intervention for clinical high risk for psychosis youth. Lastly, Dr. Yang is co-investigator on the Collaborative Hub for International Research in Mental Health, an NIMH U19 grant that establishes a research hub in Latin and South America for assessing the barriers and facilitators to scale-up of mental health services in Latin America.

Dr. Yuval Neria, professor of medical psychology in the department of epidemiology, was awarded a new four- year NIMH RO1 grant to examine fear overgeneralization among trauma exposed individuals. Dr. Neria and colleagues have also published a number of papers including a JAMA viewpoint describing the unmet mental health needs among victims of the Ebola outbreak and their caregivers and medical personnel, a biological psychology paper on PTSD, and a Journal of Anxiety Disorders paper, based on a unique study of civilians facing fire during a crisis in the middle east.

Dr. Silvia Martins, associate professor of epidemiology, published a comprehensive review paper in the American Journal of Public Health to document the worldwide trends of unintentional drug overdose an important, yet inadequately understood, public health problem.  An overall trend of increasing deaths from prescription opioid use and decreasing deaths from illicit drug use in the past several years have been noted across most of the literature, and the demographic and psychiatric correlates associated with unintentional drug overdoses are similar globally. Co-authors are Ms. Laura Sampson, Dr. Magdalena Cerdá and Dr. Sandro Galea.

To identify genes possibly related to risk of psychosis in late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD), a large team led by Richard Mayeux, Gertrude H. Sergievsky Professor of Neurology, Psychiatry and Epidemiology, and including Dr. Ruth Ottman, professor of epidemiology, in neurology and the Sergievsky Center, analyzed genetic data from 263 families from the National Institute of Aging-LOAD cohort, each of which contained multiple individuals with LOAD. The results, published in Neurobiology of Aging suggest that genes on chromosome 19q13.12, some of which are involved in brain development and neurodegeneration, may influence susceptibility to psychosis in LOAD.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been an important mental health endpoint among the 71,000 survivors of the World Trade Center Disaster. In the past year Mailman Epidemiology professor Dr. Steven D. Stellman, who also served as the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s director of Research for the World Trade Center Health Registry, co-authored studies of PTSD in police responders to 9/11 and in 9/11 survivors who also experienced Hurricane Sandy, the impact of PTSD on control of comorbid asthma, and the nine-year trajectory of PTSD in rescue, recovery, and cleanup workers. A study in progress will extend the latter findings to lower Manhattan area residents and business employees at the time of 9/11 who were not themselves involved in rescue, recovery, or cleanup. An important focus has also been behavioral and mental health problems of adolescents. In a recent publication Dr. Stellman and colleagues reported that PTSD symptoms in adolescents were associated both with their own 9/11 exposures and their parents’ 9/11 related PTSD. Studies currently in progress continue to explore 9/11 related adolescent risk behaviors and unmet mental health care needs.