Supporting mental health

Studies can translate to improved care of patients with mental illness

HealthPartners Institute Senior Investigator Rebecca Rossom, MD, works with collaborators across the country on studies of suicide prevention, serious mental illness (SMI) and opioid use disorder aimed at helping patients and families facing difficult times.

Suicide prevention

When patients are at increased risk for suicide, intervention is critical. A National Institutes of Health-funded study of 20,000 patients at HealthPartners Institute and three Kaiser Permanente sites aims to find more effective interventions by comparing three treatment arms.

Patients receive usual care, are invited to participate in online behavior therapy or participate in a risk assessment and care management program. While in-person therapy is useful, it can be expensive, difficult to access and requires travel; online therapy is more affordable and convenient and may also be effective.

Serious mental illness

People with SMI die, on average, 20 years earlier than their peers; heart disease is their leading cause of death. SMI includes disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The Institute is studying whether a decision support tool, the SMI Wizard, can improve heart health for these patients. The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

If patients have reversible risk factors for heart disease that are not at goal, the Wizard prioritizes the risk factors and notifies the patient and clinician. It also determines if the patient has a high body mass index and is taking an SMI drug that can cause weight gain; if so, it encourages the clinician to consider a different drug.

In another NIMH-funded study, researchers are looking at whether a smartphone app and wearable device can help thwart mania or depression in patients with bipolar disorder. Every day for a year, 200 patients will use the app to answer questions about their mood while the device collects data on such factors as their social connectedness, daily steps and sunlight exposure.

Opioid use

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a growing public health problem, so researchers are developing a clinical decision support tool to help clinicians identify and treat it. It will be pilot-tested in Park Nicollet and HealthPartners primary care clinics. This study is funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse’s Clinical Trial Network.