Kent State Receives $2.7 Million Grant to Study Affective Disorders | Kent State University

Kent State Receives $2.7 Million Grant to Study Affective Disorders

Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people are currently living with depression. Even in high-income countries, nearly 50 percent of people with depression do not get treatment. Depression, like other affective disorders including anxiety and stress disorders, often manifests following stressful life events.

Although there are many services such as interventions, diagnostics and treatments available in the United States, mental health practitioners find it quite difficult to address the problem efficiently.

A group of researchers at Kent State University, led by Principal Investigator Karin Coifman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, will conduct a comprehensive study to better understand risk for this disease that also will assist with the development of more efficient treatment approaches. The study, titled “Unpacking Emotion Inflexibility and Prospective Prediction of Affective Disease,” was recently funded with a five-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Principal Investigator Karin Coifman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, will conduct a comprehensive study to better understand risk of affective disorder that also will assist with the development of more efficient treatment approaches.

Dr. Coifman will collaborate with her faculty colleagues in Kent State’s Department of Psychological Sciences, Doug Delahanty, Ph.D., and John Gunstad, Ph.D.; postdoctoral fellows and graduate students; as well as Dr. Richard George, chief of trauma medicine at Summa Health. Summa will help the team recruit around 400 people from Portage and Summit counties who have sustained a traumatic injury to the body to participate in the 18-month study.

The researchers hope to gain a better understanding of what leads to the onset of affective diseases. Though clearly burdensome, affective disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, and their symptoms emerge within the context of stress. However, most people are quite resilient and do not develop these kinds of problems. For clinicians, it can be difficult to know when and for whom to intervene after someone experiences a trauma.

“In the field of psychology, we are moving away from looking at just distinct disorders and instead studying clusters of symptoms because it is common for people to fit in multiple categories,” Dr. Coifman says. “For example, someone with depression may often also have an anxiety disorder, all of which will be exacerbated within the context of major life stress.

“In this study, we are planning to take a more contemporary, yet complicated and rigorous approach to understanding the manifestation of these diseases that look at many different kinds of variables across broad categories,” Dr. Coifman adds. “This includes things like family history, early life experiences, social support and daily stress, in conjunction with measuring how people’s emotion responses shift over time. It’s challenging to do all of these things at one time, but we now have many more tools to be able to do this well.”

Dr. Coifman says this work builds on a long history of research on affective disorders by adding new technologies and statistical modeling techniques to develop more complex and useful models.

“Many of the processes that we study are very difficult for people to report, so we use technologies like high-resolution cameras to record the subtle differences in facial expression, cardiovascular indicators and other coding software to study their behavior and how they process their emotions,” Dr. Coifman says.

Following trauma, such as a devastating car accident, most people are resilient and remain psychologically healthy despite the stresses of their injuries. However, some people have more difficulty and can develop chronic symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD, Dr. Coifman explains.

“Right now, it is very hard to tell who needs our help, who will have long-term problems, because they may not be able to tell us. We need to develop better markers of risk, and that is what this study is all about,” she says.