One person in five suffers from a mental disorder, in both developed and developing countries throughout the world. In the United States, mental illness is the number one cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization.
Forty-five million United States adults, 20 percent of the population of adults, have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Over a quarter of those with a mental health diagnosis are seriously ill, and cannot function effectively without support and supervision. In the developing world, the situation is even worse.
Scientific research aimed at uncovering the underlying causes of, and alleviating the suffering associated with, severe mental illness faces many challenges. Those who live with and those who research mental illness struggle with prejudice and misunderstanding, lack of funding, and inadequate supports, around the world.
The Natalia Mental Health Foundation (formerly the Myrtlewood Foundation) was established to increase private financing to address schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In 2015, the Foundation's founder made his first grants to support the work of scientific researchers investigating the underlying genetic bases for the conditions.
The Foundation continues to fund research and, in 2016, awarded its first grants of support for individuals at innovative facilities that integrate living accommodations, therapies, and work programs. The Foundation aims to expand research grants and provides support grants for Individual Placement and Support (IPS) employment programs for the mentally ill. These employment efforts are focused in the United States, with plans to replicate them in Latin America later on.
The Foundation is also working on the structuring of private-public partnerships (namely, Social Impact Bonds, also called Pay for Success Financings) to help finance IPS employment programs as well as early intervention in psychosis programs.
Letter from the Founder
During 2015, I was a fellow of Harvard University´s Advanced Leadership Initiative, where I decided to develop a project to help improve the living conditions and self-esteem of people affected by schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
I was motivated by my personal experience and by my recognition that this important but neglected segment of the world´s population needs more assistance. Mental health issues are becoming increasingly difficult and costly to manage.
As my older daughter, Natalia, had schizophrenia, I had acquired over the years considerable practical knowledge about this disease and the devastating effect it has on families. To complement this knowledge, during my fellowship, I took a neuroscience course at MIT (my alma mater) and a neurobiology seminar at Harvard Medical School. I confess that these courses were difficult for me, in particular the neuroscience course, which I proudly passed with a C.
By 2016, I had founded the Myrtlewood Foundation and assembled an excellent board of directors as well as staff with complementary expertise in communications, technology, law, business, psychiatry, and public health. Then, tragically and unexpectedly, Natalia died during January 2017, at age 39. The cause was a pulmonary embolism that resulted from surgery to mend a broken ankle. Her death strengthened my resolve to make the Foundation a success. In her honor, its name was changed to Natalia Mental Health Foundation.
Natalia is an example of the positive results that a combination of a supportive community, encouraging family, therapy, and measured medication can achieve. By the time she died, Natalia had attained relative independence. She lived in her own apartment, had a job at Walmart, and enjoyed a rich life that included her gym, church, and outings with friends. Natalia´s positive experience is one of the reasons why the Foundation is supporting the development of employment programs for people with mental illnesses.
The Foundation also supports basic research at MIT, clinical research at Harvard and services research at Dartmouth. Prominent professors and researchers of these three institutions manage these research projects. Further, two professors of psychiatry at Columbia University who, likewise, are leaders in their fields and members of the Foundation´s board of directors, help monitor the research funded by the Foundation and its other activities.
Through quarterly tripartite research meetings and board meetings, the Foundation has established a useful and unique collaboration between these entities and individuals. The other members of the board and staff complement this knowledge with relevant expertise and experience.
We hope to provide the readers of this newsletter with state-of-the-art updates on basic, clinical and services research on schizophrenia or bipolar disorder as well as on important issues pertaining to mental health. We will provide these updates quarterly with each issue of the newsletter.
Thank you for supporting the mission of the Foundation and for your interest in effecting change in this important topic.
Our objective is to profile the cell type-specific actions of different classes of anti-psychotic drugs in disease-relevant cell populations. Our studies have already revealed surprising differences in how striatal cells types respond to anti-psychotic drug treatment, and suggest that a small subset of genes are consistently targeted by all effective anti-psychotic drugs. These studies have the potential to reveal gene targets for the rational design of a new generation of therapeutics.
The LAMP (Learn, Assess, Manage, Prevent) project will offer patients, clinicians, and family members new tools and resources to learn about, assess, manage, and help prevent schizophrenia. We are building and clinically validate smartphone-based care tools built upon scientific and medical evidence. The project will provide patients, clinicians, and family members with access to high-quality tools – but with the convenience of a phone-based platform.
In memoriam: Dr. Larry Seidman (d. September 7, 2017), co-founder of LAMP and a professor at Harvard Medical School, was an early supporter of the Foundation. May he rest in peace. His loss is deeply felt.
People in mental health recovery are interested in technology to support their efforts; however, the overabundance of health apps makes it difficult to identify which ones will be effective. We are examining the use of technology within residential and outpatient mental health settings in New Hampshire and Vermont with the goal of identifying if and how technology-based tools could support and enhance mental health services.
Employment and Support Services
INDIVIDUAL PLACEMENT AND SUPPORT (IPS)
Individual Placement and Support (IPS) is a model of supported employment for people with serious mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia spectrum disorder, bipolar, depression). IPS supported employment helps people living with behavioral health conditions work at regular jobs of their choosing. Learn more.
The Foundation is funding an IPS employment program managed by Dartmouth at Merry Meadow Farm and other living facilities. Learn more.
Featured In This Issue
Dr. Keshavan's research focuses on the neurobiological bases of psychotic disorders and on the development and implementation of early intervention treatment strategies.
In the News
Smartphone devices are a promising self-management tool for depression - research from Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Massachusetts Mental Health Center. Read the Article.
NBC News interviews Dr. John Torous of Harvard Medical School and BID-MMHC.
Read the Article
The Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation is now Peg's Foundation. Their name, Peg's Foundation, represents Peg's spirit, strength, and heart better honoring her legacy.
They have a new look but the mission remains the same:
To improve the lives of people with serious mental illness by investing in innovative projects in Northeast Ohio having national transformational impact. Learn more about their work here.
Check out the latest story about THRESHOLDS. Based in Chicago, Thresholds provides healthcare, housing, and hope for thousands of people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders in Illinois.
A study published in September's issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin, co-authored by Dartmouth's Dr. Robert Drake, reveals new information about how policy and environment can affect the effectiveness of IPS services. The study, based on research from around the world, finds that overall IPS is more effective than other vocational rehabilitation services at providing competitive employment. Learn more.
Save the Date
On May 9, 2018, The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT will convene the symposium ‘New Insights on Early Life Stress and Mental Health.” The daylong event will feature talks and panel discussions among neuroscientists, psychologists, physicians, policy experts and parents as they examine how experience and biology combine to affect the development of young minds.
Look for more details soon here.
Our partners at Harvard have been invited to host the International Early Psychosis Association meeting in Boston this coming October 7-10 2018. The meeting brings together over 1500 experts from around the world. Dr. Keshavan, whose LAMP project the foundation sponsors, will chair the meeting. Learn more