Montana State University

MSU launches center to help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental illness throughout Montana

September 18, 2014 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Montana State University has launched a new, multidisciplinary center that is designed to help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental illness throughout Montana. The new Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery will draw on MSU’s research strength in neuroscience, electrical engineering, computer science and nursing, among other disciplines, to address pressing mental health challenges in the state. In research that will be relevant to the center, MSU professor Behrad Noudoost is pictured observing brain waves on monitors in an MSU laboratory. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu

BOZEMAN – Montana State University has launched a new, multidisciplinary center that is designed to help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental illness throughout Montana.

The new MSU Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery was approved today by the Montana Board of Regents. It will draw on MSU’s research strength in neuroscience, electrical engineering, computer science, biochemistry, psychology and nursing, among other disciplines, to address pressing mental health challenges in the state.

“The goal of the center is to create a hub in Bozeman, on the MSU campus, that will take advantage of expertise we have at MSU,” said Frances Lefcort, the center’s interim director and head of the MSU Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience.

The center is being established in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montana, or NAMI Montana. It will be funded by public and private grants, contracts and gifts.

Lefcort said the center’s work will focus on four areas: basic science, which will be focused on neural mechanisms underlying mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; translational research, which will be focused on developing new neurotechnologies for diagnosis and treatment; clinical research, which will be focused on prevention, intervention and identifying populations at risk; and outreach, which includes soliciting information about mental health needs while also providing information about advances in diagnoses and treatment strategies.

Specifically, the center will do the following:

  • Work to give health care providers in Montana access to cutting-edge, research-driven techniques for diagnosing and treating mental illness;
  • Focus research efforts on the specific challenges presented with accessing treatment in isolated rural communities with limited treatment providers;
  • Serve as an information hub for the understanding and treatment of psychiatric conditions that lead to suicidal behavior; and
  • Create educational opportunities and jobs through the development of a regional "innovation cluster" based upon advances in neuroscience and psychiatric treatment.

In addition to collaborating with NAMI Montana, the center will draw from the expertise of more than 20 MSU departments or colleges, as well as other offices and entities, Lefcort said. One of those entities is MSU Extension, which is positioned to help share the center’s findings with the public. MSU Extension has a presence in all 56 Montana counties.

The state of Montana desperately needs a research-based center that is focused on mental illness treatment systems, according to Matt Kuntz, executive director of NAMI Montana.

“We work with Montana families everyday, and it’s clear that technical challenges in diagnosing and treating these conditions need more focus,” Kuntz said. “They need a multidisciplinary collaboration.”

He pointed to high suicide rates in the state as evidence of the need. Montana consistently ranks as one of the states with the highest rates of suicide and attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kuntz added that it’s important that research is targeted specifically to Montana, which is largely a rural state.

“The solutions for families dealing with mental illness that work in New York or Boston or Los Angeles may not even be possible in Montana,” he said. “NAMI Montana believes it is really important that neuroscientists and engineers and clinicians work together to come up with cutting-edge tools and techniques that can work here in Montana.”

Lefcort said that in addition to generating important research and outreach, the center will also provide valuable educational opportunities for MSU students.

“Students who are interested in going into some aspect of mental health will be able to do internships in the center and be involved in basic or clinical translational research,” Lefcort said. “We view this as a great learning vehicle. 

As the center grows, Lefcort said it will require additional faculty and staff who can provide expertise in cognitive neuroscience, clinical psychology, psychiatry, human neurophysiology and psychopharmacology.

In addition, there is a potential to collaborate with additional organizations across the state, including public awareness groups and clinical mental health care units.

Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development, said the university is pleased to use its research enterprise to address pressing mental health challenges in the state.

“Montana State has a history of research excellence, and we are confident that the university has the ability to use research to better understand and diagnose mental illness,” Reijo Pera said.

 

Contact: Frances Lefcort, interim director, Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery, (406) 994-5656 or lefcort@montana.edu