July 8, 2022
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
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.
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
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.
Research Areas of interest shared across the NIMH
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.
Tamara Lewis Johnson, MPH, MBA
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)