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School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Columbia’s Global 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 Drs. Ezra Susser, Harold Pincus, Milton Wainberg, and Lena Verdeli from the departments of epidemiology, psychiatry, and psychology, the program has faculty engaged in research and training programs in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.  In addition to research and training initiatives, the program is committed to engaging the arts to reduce stigma and promote understanding about mental illness among communities around the world.  Its 2015 award recipients for the global mental health innovation in the arts award are Pete Docter and Ronnie Delcarmen, director and co-director of Pixar’s Inside Out, and the 2016 award recipient is Venezuelan artist Javier Tellez. The Global Mental Health Program was named a World Health Organization collaborating center for research and capacity building in global mental health and serves as the research and data coordinating center for the research program underpinning the development of the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11).

For further information about the GMHP, visit:

Dr. Yuval Neria, professor of medical psychology in the department of epidemiology, started the second year of a four year NIMH RO1 grant using fMRI to examine the neural mechanisms of overgeneralization among trauma exposed individuals. In addition, he was awarded a new grant by the New York Presbyterian Hospital aiming to establish the first Veterans Clinic at Columbia Medical Center to provide evidence-based assessments and treatments for military personnel and their family members. Dr. Neria and colleagues have also published a number of papers focusing on biomarkers of PTSD including a paper in Psychiatry Research, Neuroimaging showing that hippocampal volume is predictive of recovery for PTSD, and a paper in Depression and Anxiety which reports that prolonged exposure treatment resulted in structural brain changes including cortex thinning and reduction in volume.

Dr. Silvia Martins, associate professor of epidemiology, with researchers at the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP), Johns Hopkins University and UC Davis, is collecting data on the relationship between exposure to traumatic events and socio-emotional development, language development, motor skills and school readiness of 1,250 pre-schoolers and their mothers in Embu das Artes, a mid-size city in the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Baseline data collection will be complete by December 2016. Building upon this project, Dr. Martins and her collaborators are also investigating teacher-student interactions in these pre-schools and how they relate to the above outcomes.

Use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy is increasing, with recent prevalence estimates of 4 to 10 percent. However, there is insufficient knowledge of their potential consequences on offspring neurodevelopmental outcomes. Dr. Alan Brown, professor of epidemiology and psychiatry, has led a large research project of a national sample consisting of over 800,000 pregnancies in Finland including 15,000 mothers who were prescribed SSRIs during pregnancy. These pregnancies were linked to Finnish national registries including neuropsychiatric outcomes. He and his team in Finland demonstrated that offspring of mothers who were exposed to SSRIs during pregnancy had increased risks of adolescent depression and findings persisted after controlling for the effect of maternal depression on offspring outcomes.  He and his team plan to follow up on these findings in a larger sample of subjects.  This work is expected to lead to important information for clinicians and patients regarding the safety of SSRIs during pregnancy, in particular the question of balancing these potential risks with the utility of antidepressants in the treatment of depressive and other psychiatric disorders in pregnant populations.