Supplemental NIMH Grant Enables the Suffolk County Mental Health Project to Add fMRI Study

The Suffolk County Mental Health Project (SCMHP) received a supplemental grant of $255,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to add functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to the assessment of participants. The supplemental grant will enable principal investigator Roman Kotov, PhD and his co-investigators to learn how the interactions between emotions and cognition are affected by serious mental illness and how they relate to trajectories of recovery from these conditions.

Aprajita Mohanty, PhD

Aprajita Mohanty, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, will oversee the fMRI study. During the next several months, fMRI assessments will be completed with 50 participants in the project who have different diagnoses as well as 25 demographically matched community volunteers. The study will reveal if there are differences among the groups and how fMRI indices are associated with clinical symptoms, Event-Related Potentials, and “real life” functioning, such as employment, residential independence, and readmissions to a hospital.

The assessments will include tests of basic emotional processing — how emotions like fear and excitement are processed in the brain. The researchers hypothesize that there will be no difference in the way people who experienced mental illness process emotions when compared with community volunteers. The researchers expect differences, however, when they look at how the cognitive functioning of participants is affected when they are distracted by emotion-laden stimuli. “People with serious mental illness are known to have problems with cognitive functioning,” Dr. Mohanty explained, “but we do not know what regions of the brain are involved when emotion-laden distraction interrupts working memory. We are interested in how emotion can direct attention away from cognitive functioning and what inhibits distraction, allowing the person to stay focused on the task at hand.”

The SCMHP is a collaborative investigation involving faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science and the Department of Psychology, as well as hospitals, community agencies, participants and volunteers throughout Suffolk County. The investigators have been following the lives of 470 men and women who were recruited from inpatient psychiatric units in Suffolk County between 1989 and 1995. Last year, the NIMH issued a $2 million grant to conduct a 20-year follow-up study, enabling the researchers to address questions about psychiatric recovery during the second decade of the illness.