Notice of Information on High Priority Research Areas for Sex and Gender Influences on the Adolescent Brain and Mental Health of Girls and Young Women (Ages 12-24)
Notice Number:
NOT-MH-22-245

Key Dates

Release Date:

July 8, 2022

Related Announcements

None

Issued by

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Purpose

The purpose of this Notice is to outline NIMH priorities for potential applications in the field of women’s mental health research, specifically during the adolescent and young adult periods.

The NIMH encourages research projects that examine biological, social, cultural, and behavioral contributions of sex and gender influences on mental illnesses (e.g., anxiety, depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, trauma-related disorders, eating disorders, etc.) autism spectrum disorder and suicide in adolescent girls and young women. Research is needed to identify biomarkers and behavioral indicators that predict risk trajectories of mental illness. Additionally, translational research is needed that applies recent basic research discoveries (e.g., brain-derived neurotrophic factor, gene-environment interactions) and identifies opportunities to advance clinical research and mental health services research. Prevention and intervention projects that consider the impact of biological as well as social, cultural, and gender-based target mechanisms on mental health outcomes are also encouraged.

Multidisciplinary collaborations that interweave basic science and translational research to identify actionable targets for mechanisms that spur the development of innovative mental health interventions for girls and young women are of high interest. In addition, NIMH encourages investigators to draw on existing large scale comprehensive multidomain research such as the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) Project and the Human Connectome Project in Development (HCP-D), other longitudinal studies, existing research cores, CTSAs, or other institutional assets in the design of their projects.

Background:

Global epidemiological data consistently report that up to 20% of children and adolescents live with a disabling mental illness and suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. Up to 50% of all adult mental illnesses have their onset in adolescence. Recent trends show rising rates of depressive disorders among adolescent girls and young women compared to adolescent boys and young men. Suicide risk among girls had a significant increase in rates during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to 2019, and young women are overrepresented in pediatric emergency department mental health visits. These findings demonstrate the need to examine the differential impact of the pandemic on the mental health trajectory of adolescent girls and young women. Research findings indicate that early adverse experiences may compromise brain and behavioral development and the mental health and well-being of adolescents and young adults. Relevant gender-specific research findings indicate “(1) that gender differences in adults emerge at young ages; (2) the influence of gender roles and expectations on the expression and interpretation of behavioral and emotional symptoms, are different for boys and girls; and (3) gender is a modifier of the (mental) illness risks and protective factors that can be identified at the genetic, neurobiological and psychosocial levels.” Equally important is research that incorporates sex as a significant biological variable, for preclinical research and clinical research that recognizes that sex, defined as being XY or XX, is a construct derived from chromosomal complement. As such, sex is an important biological variable in preclinical research that informs the premise and design of clinical research. Current findings demonstrate that sex affects health status, including disease presentation, pathophysiology, and therapeutic response. Together, the combination of both sex and gender influences not only strengthen study design but also advance human health.

Given the biological, social, and cultural factors that impact adolescents and young adults, the NIMH seeks studies that explore sex and gender influences on the development of the adolescent brain and adolescent mental health of girls and young women.

Research areas of interest include but are not limited to:

Basic and Behavioral Neuroscience

  • Hypothesis-driven sex-specific research on brain development and intrinsic and extrinsic influences on neural pathways in basic research during adolescence or young adulthood.

Translational Research

  • Studies probing mechanisms of gender and sex differences in mental illnesses during adolescence and young adulthood period.
  • Therapeutic treatment studies and basic experimental studies involving humans informed by sex differences, including hormonal variation, changes in familial and peer dynamics, and differential early life context.
  • Studies that integrate biological indices of pubertal changes and disentangle age, pubertal/developmental changes, and different aspects of pubertal development as it relates to mental health risks.
  • Studies to understand proximal mental health impacts associated with hormone fluctuations across the menstrual cycle, beyond the age of menarche.
  • Biomarker studies to inform understanding of risk trajectories and resilience in adolescent girls and young women.

Interventions Development and Services Research

For research on the effectiveness of interventions or services, NIMH supports studies that employ an experimental therapeutics approach, whereby clinical trials are designed not only to test the intervention effects on outcomes of interest, but also to inform understanding of the intervention’s mechanisms of action. As such, applications that propose to develop and/or test the efficacy/effectiveness of preventive, therapeutic, or services interventions must include specification of the intervention target(s)/mechanism(s) and assessment of intervention-induced changes in the presumed target mechanism(s) that are hypothesized to account for the intervention outcome. In the case of services interventions, targets/mechanisms might involve mutable consumer- or provider-behaviors, or organizational-/system-level factors that are intervened upon in order to improve access, continuity, quality, equity, and/or value of services. Research on NIH-defined health disparity populations(see NIMHD Strategic Plan): racial (American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander) and ethnic (Latino or Hispanic) minority populations, less privileged socioeconomic status (SES) populations, underserved rural populations, sexual and gender minorities (SGM), and any subpopulations that can be characterized by two or more of these descriptions is strongly encouraged. See the Support for Clinical Trials at NIMH web page for additional information regarding dedicated Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for NIMH clinical trials research support.

  • Integration of prevention trial data sets to better understand mediators and moderators of sex differences in intervention effects.
  • Sex differences in help-seeking behaviors and attitudes during adolescence and young adulthood that may inform sex-specific and gender-specific intervention strategies or strategies that promote intervention engagement and/or adherence.
  • Development and testing of adaptations to existing evidence-based interventions that clearly target sex or gender-specific factors with the goal of improving intervention effectiveness during adolescence and young adulthood.
  • Interventions that capitalize on the use of digital health technology more broadly to identify important phenomenological sex and gender differences (such as in resource utilization, situational response to stressors, and the relationship between self-report and peripheral measures of stress) as well as to improve continuity of mental health care during the young adult transition period.

HIV/AIDS Research

  • Studies that advance understanding of how mental health trajectories impact the risk of HIV infection during adolescence and young adulthood.
  • Studies that advance understanding of how mental health trajectories impact low uptake of and adherence to biomedical HIV prevention during adolescence and the young adult period.
  • Mental health intervention and implementation research that considers the unique developmental context of adolescence and young adulthood to improve HIV prevention or care continuum outcomes.

Research Areas of interest shared across the NIMH

  • Mental Health studies that examine risk and resilience factors related to exploring sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) development among adolescent girls and young women. For more information on the NIMH’s interests in areas of sexual gender minority research refer to (NOT-MD-19-001).
  • Studies that focus on the development and testing of scalable mental health interventions for key populations, such as racial and ethnic minority populations, and sexual and gender minority girls and young women, adolescent girls and young women living in underserved rural communities , adolescent girls and young women with disabilities, adolescent girls and young women involved in the juvenile justice system, and other groups.
  • Studies that examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health trajectory of adolescent girls and young women.
  • Studies that focus on sex and gender influences in response to trauma and the impact on the mental illness course, symptoms and overall functioning of adolescent girls and young women. For more information on research areas of interest in aggression and violence against others refer to NOT-MH-22-095.
  • Studies that advance understanding of how social media and digital technology influence the mental health trajectory of adolescent girls and young women.
  • Studies that examine risk factors for suicidal thoughts and behavior (e.g., suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts) and self-harm and the effects of these behaviors on mental health trajectories.
  • Studies that incorporate intersectional research methods and measures in advancing knowledge on the trajectory of mental illness in adolescent girls and young women.
  • Studies that advance mental health disparities research in racial and ethnic minority adolescent girls and young women living in underserved rural and non-urban communities.
  • Studies that focus on the development and testing of prevention interventions that promote positive mental health trajectories in adolescent girls and young women.
  • Studies that identify factors contributing to increased risk and/or burden of mental health conditions in girls and young women in understudied, underserved, and underreported populations. For more information on research areas of interest on the health of women in understudied, underrepresented, and underreported populations refer to NOT-OD-22-031.
  • Greater understanding of mental health risks for adolescent and young adult mothers during pregnancy and the postnatal period. For more information on NIMH’s interest in areas of perinatal mental health refer to NOT-MH-21-270
  • Studies examining risk factors that contribute to peripartum psychopathology (e.g., bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression, anxiety). For more information on NIMH’s interest in areas of perinatal mental health refer to NOT-MH-21-270.
  • Studies that seek to build capacity for mental health researchers and specialists focused on the psychosocial needs of adolescent girls and young women in low-resource and low- and middle--income country (LMIC) settings.
  • Studies that seek to understand the impact of mental health policies on mental health treatment and services for adolescent girls and young women in LMIC settings.
  • Development of tools and instruments to strengthen data collection, monitoring, surveillance, measurement and reporting on adolescent girls and young women’s mental health in LMIC settings.
  • Studies that seek to support informed and autonomous decision making for adolescent girls and young women on mental health treatment and care in LMIC settings.
  • Studies that advance mental health research in mobile/migratory adolescent girls and young women living in LMICs.

Investigators planning to submit an application related to the topics outlined above are strongly encouraged to discuss their proposed research with the scientific contact listed below well in advance of the application due date.

Inquiries

Please direct all inquiries to:

Scientific/Research Contact:
Tamara Lewis Johnson, MPH, MBA
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Telephone: (301)594-7963
Email: tamara.lewisjohnson@nih.gov