Science News » Digital Mental Health: Innovating in a Time of High Anxiety

In this time of increased anxiety and physical distancing due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many people are looking for digital technology solutions to help them manage their mental health. Mental health apps are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the digital marketplace, with more than 10,000 apps available. These apps claim to, among other things, boost your mood, increase your sleep, and even help you manage your addiction.

Do these apps work, and is there any harm in trying them? This question is the topic of a new blog post by Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.B.B.S., of Duke University School of Medicine.

Read the full blog post on the World Economic Forum website.

Original Article

Science News » Media Advisory: NIMH Experts Available to Discuss Mental Health Concerns Related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic


The spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S. and across the world has led many people to feel anxious and fearful about what the next few weeks and months hold. During this uncertain time, physical distancing measures meant to help reduce virus transmission may add additional stress to an already difficult situation. Perhaps more than ever, expert insight is needed to help people support their mental health.

Experts from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are available to speak with reporters and members of the media on a variety of topics related to mental health and the coronavirus pandemic, such as the effects of the pandemic and isolation on those with and without mental illnesses; healthy ways to deal with stress, anxiety, and loneliness; how to talk with children and teens about the coronavirus; and how people can find mental health help and support if they need it.


Dr. Gordon has combined expertise in psychiatry and neuroscience, having practiced as a licensed psychiatrist while maintaining a robust research program. He currently oversees an extensive research portfolio of basic and clinical research that seeks to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure. Dr. Gordon’s own research focuses on understanding the genetic contributions and brain circuitry underlying mental illnesses. His work has direct relevance to disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.

  • Maryland Pao, M.D., NIMH Clinical Director, Intramural Research Program; Deputy Scientific Director, NIMH

Dr. Pao is a board-certified clinician in Pediatrics, General Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Psychosomatic Medicine. Her core research interests are in the complex interactions between psychiatric and physical illnesses, including pediatric oncology, pediatric HIV, and other primary immunodeficiencies. Dr. Pao also studies distress, suicide, and coping and adaptation in medically ill children.

  • Krystal M. Lewis, Ph.D., Clinical psychologist in the Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience, part of NIMHs Intramural Research Program

Dr. Lewis is a licensed clinical psychologist with extensive training and experience in pediatric anxiety. She provides evidence-based treatments and preventative interventions to youth and families and collaborates with schools to promote youth mental health. Her research interests include identifying mechanisms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with anxious youth. Dr. Lewis is an active member and leader with the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

  • Jane Pearson, Ph.D., Chair of the NIMH Suicide Research Consortium

Dr. Jane Pearson is the Special Advisor to the NIMH Director on Suicide Research. She leads the NIMH Suicide Prevention Research Team, developing strategies for NIMH suicide prevention research. She leads the staffing for NIMH collaboration with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Dr. Pearson is a clinical psychologist, and an adjunct associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. She has authored papers on the ethical and methodological challenges of suicide research.

  • Farris Tuma, Sc.D., Chief of the Traumatic Stress Research Program, part of NIMH’s Division of Translational Research

Dr. Tuma serves as the NIMH point of contact for research on violence and trauma. He manages a research funding program on the mental health consequences of trauma (including disasters and large-scale trauma such as war, terrorism, mass violence and shootings, natural and technological disaster, refugee trauma and relocation, and torture) on children, adolescents, and adults.

Additional NIMH experts who can speak on a wide variety of topics—such as the impact of the coronavirus on those with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the use of mental health apps for support—are available.

For interviews, photos, or additional background information, please contact the NIMH Press Office at 301-443-4536 or

Original Article

Video » Introduction to the MRI Scanner

Introduction to the MRI Scanner


Watch on YouTube.



We are so grateful for your participation in our research study!

Researchers use an MRI scanning machine to take pictures of the brain because it can reveal more information and help us learn more about certain conditions. This video is a sneak peek at what it’s like to get an MRI scan.

Here is a control room, which is right next door to the MRI scanner. When you are in the MRI scanner, we will use computers to take pictures of your brain. We will be able to talk with you and will be watching you the entire time on a big TV screen and through a window.

Many kids have been in an MRI scanner for research. Before you enter the scanner room, you will take off your shoes and any watches, bracelets, or other metal on your body. You will lie down on the MRI bed and wear ear plugs. The ear plugs help make the MRI’s humming noises quieter. Some people say the noises sound like clicking or banging when it is taking the pictures of your brain.

Next, a researcher will slide something that looks like a football helmet over your head. The helmet has a mirror so you can see the movie screen at the back of the scanner. You can also have a blanket to feel more comfortable.

Once you are all set, the researcher will slide the bed into the MRI scanner. When the MRI is not taking pictures of your brain, you might hear the researcher talking to you.

During the scans, we will show you a movie. You will only be able to see the movie–you won’t be able to hear it, and you probably won’t be able to finish the entire movie. There’s not enough time in the scanner for that! Also, for about 15 minutes, you will look at a white plus sign instead of the movie.

The scanning takes a total of 90 minutes, made up of scans that are between 1 and 10 minutes each, with short breaks in between. If you need a break during the scans, you can always tell the researchers.

For the break, you can get up and walk around, stretch, or use the restroom. And, during the study visit you may see or meet with members of our research staff.

Some of our staff that you may see are: Dr. Armin Raznahan, the researcher who heads up this study. Jonathan Blumenthal, a research psychologist who organizes the study, Erin Torres, a nurse practitioner who will do your physical and other assessments, Dr. François Lalonde, a psychologist who works with brain MRI scanning, Dr. Liv Clasen, a psychologist who also manages the data; Research assistants: Allysa Warling, Ethan Whitman, and Kathleen Wilson; And neuropsychologists Dr. Lauren Kenworthy, Dr. Srishti Rau, Dr. Kim Schauder, Dr. Christy Casnar.

Thank you for participating!

Original Article

Science News » Supporting Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may be stressful—it can be difficult to cope with fear and anxiety, changing daily routines, and a general sense of uncertainty. Although people respond to stressful situations in different ways, taking steps to care for yourself and your family can help you manage stress.

Stress during an infectious disease outbreak can include

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Things you can do to support yourself

  • Take breaks from the news. Set aside periods of time each day during which you close your news and social media feeds and turn off the TV. Give yourself some time and space to think about and focus on other things.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat regular, well-balanced meals; get some physical activity every day; give yourself time to get a full night’s sleep; and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy. Engaging in these activities offers an important outlet for pleasure, fun, and creativity.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Digital tools can help keep you stay connected with friends, family, and neighbors when you aren’t able to see them in person.
  • Set goals and priorities.Decide what must get done today and what can wait. Priorities may shift to reflect changes in schedules and routines and that is okay. Recognize what you have accomplished at the end of the day.
  • Focus on the facts. Sharing the facts about COVID-19 and understanding the actual risk to yourself and people you care about can make an outbreak less stressful.

Call your healthcare provider if stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row.

Resources for Those in Distress

  • In an emergency
    • Call 911
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline:
    • Call 1-800-985-5990 (TTY 1-800-846-8517)
    • Text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Find Help

More Information

Original Article

Scientific Meeting » Virtual Workshop: Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care

Virtual Workshop: Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care


Location: Webinar

On April 2, 2020, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) convened a virtual workshop, Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care: The Big Picture Workshop. The workshop featured 49 international experts with a broad range of expertise, including mental health care, psychiatric research, patient care access and services delivery, health technologies, epidemiology, biostatistics, biomedical engineering, digital health, machine learning and artificial intelligence, computational psychiatry, treatment developments, and ethics.

A major goal of the Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care initiative is to harness advances in technology including machine learning and artificial intelligence to accelerate the practical utility of streams of data used in mental health care to inform personalized mental health care. The specific purpose of this “Big Picture” workshop was to assemble thought leaders and experts from different fields, to think through where there may be opportunities to leverage research and existing resources that could transform the mental health care landscape, moving from biomarkers and streams of data into pragmatic tools that can inform clinical treatment decision making.

The workshop had four sessions where panelists discussed the desired future state of mental health care, current state and lessons learned, how to get from here to there, and ethical considerations.

Some areas of more detailed discussion included:

  • What are the challenges and work needed to link electronic health records (EHR) system, what details in outcomes in EHR will be needed to make Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS) work?
  • What will be needed to develop CDDS? Are there simple and easily understood algorithmic approaches or hybrid approaches to explore?
  • What will be needed to ensure that the social determinants of mental health are taken into consideration?
  • How would we use distributed datasets and do we link them? What factors should be universally present across all databases?
  • Will auto AI provide a solution to the need for human scrubbing of the data? Is increased annotation a better solution?
  • How do you develop buy-in and trust from clinicians and patients when developing CDSS systems? How do you ensure fairness and interpretability of the CDSS?

NIMH will distribute the recording and a more detailed meeting summary from the workshop. The outcome of this workshop will guide future discussions of the Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care initiative, including potential future workshops and development of funding opportunities.

Original Article

Scientific Meeting » Virtual Workshop: Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care

Virtual Workshop: Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care


Location: Webinar

On April 2, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) will host a virtual workshop on Transforming the Practice of Mental Health Care. Artificial intelligence and related technologies have the potential to transform mental health care in areas such as diagnosis, treatment recommendations, patient engagement, and treatment adherence. This workshop will bring together a group of visionary thinkers to brainstorm how big data and artificial intelligence can transform care for individuals living with mental illness.

The workshop will pose questions such as:

  • How can electronic health records, combined with mobile trackers, biomarkers, genomics, imaging, and physiology, be meaningfully combined to inform treatment recommendations for patients?
  • How can we create an environment where multi-modal data are used to create clinical decision support software that can learn over time?
  • What are the strengths and challenges of existing efforts in mental health and other fields of health care, to use big data and artificial intelligence to improve outcomes?
  • What public/private partnerships will be required to realize this vision, and how can NIMH help?
  • What are the ethical issues involved in using artificial intelligence in mental health care?
  • What level of evidence will be needed to support approvals by regulatory agencies and by payors?

Webinar Details:
Registration is not necessary.
Join Webex meeting Meeting number (access code): 627 704 444
Meeting password: NIMH

Join from a video system or application
Dial You can also dial and enter your meeting number.

Join by phone
Tap to call in from a mobile device (attendees only) 1-650-479-3208 Call-in toll number (US/Canada) Global call-in numbers

Join using Microsoft Lync or Microsoft Skype for Business

Original Article

Science News » Fast-Fail Trial Shows New Approach to Identifying Brain Targets for Clinical Treatments

A first-of-its-kind trial has demonstrated that a receptor involved in the brain’s reward system may be a viable target for treating anhedonia (or lack of pleasure), a key symptom of several mood and anxiety disorders. This innovative fast-fail trial was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the results of the trial are published in Nature Medicine.

Mood and anxiety disorders are some of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders, affecting millions of people each year. Despite this, available medications are not always effective in treating these disorders. The need for new treatments is clear, but developing psychiatric medications is often a resource-intensive process with a low success rate. To address this, NIMH established the Fast-Fail Trials program with the goal of enhancing the early phases of drug development.

“The fast-fail approach aims to help researchers determine—quickly and efficiently—whether targeting a specific neurobiological mechanism has the hypothesized effect and is a potential candidate for further clinical trials,” explained Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of NIMH. “Positive results suggest that targeting a neurobiological mechanism affects brain function as expected, while negative results allow researchers to eliminate that target from further consideration. We hope this approach will pave the way towards the development of new and better treatments for individuals with mental illnesses.”

In this study, researcher Andrew D. Krystal, M.D., who began the research while at the Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, and is now at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues report the first comprehensive application of this fast-fail approach. The researchers examined the kappa opioid receptor (KOR) as a possible neurobiological target for the treatment of anhedonia. Previous findings suggest that drugs that block the KOR, known as KOR antagonists, can affect reward-related brain circuits in ways that could improve reward processing and reverse anhedonia and associated symptoms.

The researchers conducted an eight-week double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial with 86 participants across six clinical sites in the United States. Participants were eligible if they were 21 to 65 years old, met the criteria for clinically significant anhedonia and the diagnostic criteria for a mood or anxiety disorder, and did not have other medical or psychiatric conditions. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either a 10 mg dose of the KOR antagonist JNJ-67953964 (previously CERC-501 and LY2456302) or an identical-looking placebo tablet. They received one dose daily over the eight-week trial.

To measure the effects of the KOR antagonist, the researchers examined the activation of the ventral striatum, a structure located in the middle of the brain that is involved in decision making, motivation, reinforcement, and reward. Participants completed a reward anticipation task while their brain activity was measured in a functional MRI scanner. During the task, participants saw a cue that signaled whether the upcoming trial might lead to monetary gain, monetary loss, or neither. In some trials, participants had an incentive to press a specific button, as they could gain money or avoid losing money by doing so. They completed the task once at the beginning and again at the end of the trial.

Relative to those who received the placebo, participants who received the KOR antagonist showed increased activation in the ventral striatum when anticipating monetary gain (versus no-incentive trials). Additional analyses indicated that participants who received the KOR antagonist also showed greater activation of the ventral striatum during anticipation of loss.

Exploratory analyses indicated that lower ventral striatum activation in anticipation of monetary gain at baseline was associated with greater change in activation over the course of the trial, and this correlation was strongest for those who received the KOR antagonist. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that baseline ventral striatal activation may have promise as a neurobiological marker that identifies participants who are most likely to respond to the KOR antagonist. Further analyses suggest that the KOR antagonist also had observable effects on secondary behavioral and self-report measures, including decreased anhedonia scores.

“Together, these findings demonstrate that the KOR antagonist had the hypothesized effect on brain circuits involved in reward and pleasure, establishing proof of mechanism,” explained Dr. Krystal. “The results provide support for the usefulness and feasibility of fast-fail trials and—more specifically—for KOR antagonism as a potential target for drug development.”

Further testing in larger trials will allow researchers to examine whether using KOR antagonism to engage the ventral striatum yields observable therapeutic effects on anhedonia and related clinical outcomes.

“This study was the first successful implementation of the fast-fail approach and it serves as a proof of principle of the viability of this methodology,” says Mi Hillefors, M.D., Ph.D., acting deputy director of NIMH’s Division of Translational Research. “We hope that the knowledge gained from the study will lead to more informative treatment trials in the future, contribute to the field of psychopharmacology, and reduce the risks typically associated with developing new psychiatric medications.”


Krystal, A. D., Pizzagalli, D. A., Smoski, M., Mathew, S. J., Nurnberger, J., Lisanby, S. H., Iosifescu, D., Murrough, J. W., Yang, H., Weinger, R. D., Calabrese, J. R., Sanacora, G., Hermes, G., Keefe, R. S. E., Song, A., Goodman, W., Szabo, S. T., Whitton, A. E., Gao, K., & Potter, W. Z. (2020). A randomized proof-of-mechanism trial applying the ‘fast-fail’ approach to evaluating kappa-opioid antagonism as a treatment for anhedonia. Nature Medicine. doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0806-7



Clinical Trial


About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health®

Original Article

Twitter Chat » NIMH Facebook Live Event: Bipolar Disorder in Adolescents and Young Adults

NIMH Facebook Live Event: Bipolar Disorder in Adolescents and Young Adults


NIMH Facebook Live Event: Bipolar Disorder in Adolescents and Young Adults

In recognition of World Bipolar Day, NIMH is hosting a Facebook Live event on bipolar disorder in adolescents and young adults on Wednesday, March 26, 2020, from 12:00 – 12:30 p.m. ET.

Bipolar disorder is not the same as the typical ups and downs every kid goes through. The mood swings are more extreme and accompanied by changes in sleep, energy level, and the ability to think clearly. While bipolar disorder is far less common than depression in adolescents, it can be extremely impairing and is associated with a high risk for suicide if untreated. Bipolar disorder can be particularly difficult to diagnose in adolescents as they are already experiencing mood swings related to puberty and hormonal changes, and the symptoms of bipolar disorder often mirror those of other mental disorders like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

During the Facebook Live event, clinical psychologist and chief of the Child and Adolescent Psychosocial Interventions Research Program at NIMH, Mary Rooney, Ph.D., will discuss the signs and symptoms, proper diagnosis, and treatments for bipolar disorder in adolescents and young adults.

Facebook viewers will also have a chance to ask questions live, so follow NIMH on Facebook and read below for more information on how to participate.

Participating is easy.

  • Visit NIMH’s Facebook page a few minutes before 12:00 p.m. ET on March 26.
  • Refresh your page at 12:00 p.m. ET to watch the live video discussion, it will begin on the hour.
  • Click on the video. Make sure it is unmuted by using the volume controls at the bottom of the video.
  • Type your questions into the comments section below the video. NIMH experts will answer questions and provide resources after the event. You will need a Facebook account to ask questions.

Note: The experts cannot provide specific medical advice or referrals. Please consult with a qualified health care provider for diagnosis, treatment, and answers to your personal questions. If you need help finding a provider, visit

More Information:

Original Article

Scientific Meeting » The NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City

The NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City


Location: National Institutes of Health
Building 10, Masur Auditorium
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD

Sponsored by:
NIMH Division of Extramural Affairs

Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D., M.P.H., the pediatrician and scientist who exposed the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, will present a first-hand account of her research efforts to discover the truth and her fight for justice in the national spotlight.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha is the founder and director of the Michigan State University (MSU)-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program established to address the Flint water crisis. In 2016, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for her role in bringing awareness to the crisis in Flint and the recovery efforts.

Dr. Hanna-Attisha earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health from the University of Michigan and a medical degree from MSU’s College of Human Medicine. She completed her residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, where she was chief resident. She is currently an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development and a C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at MSU.


NIMH established the Director’s Innovation Speaker Series to encourage broad, interdisciplinary thinking in the development of scientific initiatives and programs, and to press for theoretical leaps in science over the continuation of incremental thought. Innovation speakers are encouraged to describe their work from the perspective of breaking through existing boundaries and developing successful new ideas, as well as working outside their primary area of expertise in ways that have pushed their fields forward. We encourage discussions of the meaning of innovation, creativity, breakthroughs, and paradigm-shifting.

Registration and Parking

This event is open without prior registration to all National Institutes of Health (NIH) staff and the general public. Parking is available at a nominal fee. A government-issued photo identification card (e.g., NIH ID or driver's license) is required to enter the building.

See NIH's Visitor Information for instructions on getting to the NIH Campus, finding NIH buildings, and obtaining off campus maps.

More Information:

A videocast of the event will be available.

NIMH will provide sign language interpreters. Individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations should contact the Federal Relay at 1-800-877-8339. Submit general questions to the NIMH Director’s Innovation Speaker Series mailbox.

Original Article

Scientific Meeting » Webinar: NIH Research Training Opportunities in Global Mental Health

Webinar: NIH Research Training Opportunities in Global Mental Health


Location: Webinar

The NIMH Division of AIDS Research, NIMH Center for Global Mental Health Research and the Fogarty International Center are hosting a webinar on research training opportunities at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for researchers interested in global mental health. The information will be geared towards early-stage researchers, including but not limited to graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, junior faculty, and other trainees.

In this webinar, the speakers will talk about funding opportunity announcements at NIMH and the Fogarty International Center. They will also share tips on how best to interact with program staff at the NIH and how to draft a research concept.

More Information:

For more information and to register for this event, visit

Original Article