UI CDR Partners with Kennedy Forum for ʺA New Paradigmʺ in mental health

University of Illinois Center on Depression & Resilience (UI CDR) was honored to be a cosponsor of the Kennedy Forum & Gala Event on November 11, 2015 at the Hilton Chicago, which brought together more than 500 people. The aim of the event, titled “A New Paradigm,” was to advance the Forum in its mission to end stigma around mental health and substance use disorder, while revolutionizing the way mental health care is addressed in America. It is a mission synchronous to the aim of UI CDR and central to our partnership with the Kennedy Forum over the past year.

“Kennedy Forum provides a powerful mechanism to disseminate new developments in the science of mental health with the greater Chicagoland area.” Dr. Anand Kumar, Director of the UI CDR, said of the partnership.

Dr. Kumar, who also led a breakout session at the event, went on to explain that the relationship is reciprocal, as UI CDR also provides the science that informs the advocacy and policy work the Kennedy Forum is engaged in. The event covered a diverse range of mental health topics through 4 plenary sessions, 3 breakouts, and 8 workshops. UI CDR seeks to make transformational advances in the understanding and treatment of mood disorders, including increasing access to care—specifically among the most vulnerable populations—by reducing stigma, removing barriers, and addressing social determinants.

In a plenary on " Science Informed Mental Health Policy” presented by UI CDR Leadership this dilemma was addressed head-on from a diverse range of perspectives that exemplified the Center’s varied approach. As panel moderator Dr. Mark Rasenick, part of UI CDR Leadership, explained to the assembly there are two groups that go untreated: “One that doesn’t have appropriate access to care and another that doesn’t seek care because of the stigma they feel themselves.”

UI CDR Leadership on the panel represented a range of solutions to inform a policy conversation. From biology to systems change, technology to redefining the concept of mental health various perspectives were put forward from the front of the room. While Dr. Rasenick focuses his research on identifying biomarkers in the blood—he has spent almost three decades studying the biology of mood disorders, G-protein signaling, and its interaction with structural proteins in the brain—that can lead to identifying clinical depression his perspectives were balanced with using a more public health approach to mental health.

Dr. Pauline Maki, Director of Women’s Mental Health Research, shared with the plenary audience an initiative that would not be possible without the UI CDR and its versatile problem solving approach. Dr. Maki is collaborating with Dr. Jennifer Duffecy, Director of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Services and Research in Adult Mood Disorders, whose expertise is in integrating technology into evidence based care applications. Their new partnership teaches physicians, midwives, and OB-GYN to screen low income, predominately minority, pregnant mothers for depression as a routine part of their perinatal care. These women would not be likely to seek healthcare, let alone mental health care, if they weren’t pregnant.

“The project recognizes that these women aren’t likely to seek care for depression on their own. To get them access for treatment of depression when they come in for needed health care, that is, when they are pregnant, gives us an opportunity to screen them and treat them.” Dr. Maki explains. “Perinatal depression treatment at UIC is really major depression treatment at UIC.”

Dr. Duffecy adds, “While technological innovations—websites, smart phones, tablets and SMS frameworks—will never displace traditional treatment models they do help us to navigate around some physical barriers, such as childcare and transportation issues.”

This project is exemplary of the kind of collaborative, solution-oriented work around depression and mood disorders that the UI CDR accomplishes organizing all of the exceptional multidisciplinary research on depression and resilience across campus under a single umbrella with a unified mission.

“The UI CDR harnesses multiple strengths related to mood disorder across the University focused on a single aim.” Dr. Kumar observes. “This is why it was organized in this way in the first place.”

Dr. Marc Atkins, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Research and part of UI CDR Leadership and Dr. Nicole Kazee, Director of Health Policy and Programs for the Office of the Vice President of Health Affairs at UIC also spoke on the panel. In the same paradigm shifting tenor that discussed the role technology could play for increasing accessibility and reach, Dr. Atkins shared insights from 25 years of service research. Dr. Atkins suggested bridging the gap in mental health services with children and adolescents by exploring natural supports—schools, playgrounds and even home settings—where mental health services can be integrated into the setting as an augmentation of the clinic model.

The discourse was lively and engaging complimenting the overarching theme of social change that resonated throughout the events of the day. In partnership with Kennedy Forum, transformational advances on mood disorders and mental health can be made.