PCORI is awarding UNC researchers $4 million to evaluate mental health interventions for adults with autism

Brenna Maddox, MD, PhD, UNU School of Medicine, will lead a study to help adults with autism, clinicians, and other key stakeholders choose the most appropriate mental health intervention for individual patients.


Chapel Hill, NC — The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has announced the approval of funding totaling $96 million for 18 new research studies, including $4 million for a study evaluating any mental health intervention — cognitive or mindfulness-based behavioral therapy. . Therapy – is best suited to help adults with autism.

Brenna Maddox, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and implementation scientist at UNC TEACCH at the UNC School of Medicine, will lead this study with PI Micah Mazukek dual Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Funding is pending completion of business and program review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract.

Adults with autism are more likely to have mental health problems than the general population. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health conditions that can lead to negative long-term effects on health, daily functioning, and quality of life. In addition, depression and anxiety increase the risk of suicide.

Adults with autism have identified mental health as a top research priority; However, studies have not yet been conducted to determine which interventions are most beneficial for adults with autism. The two mental health interventions that have been studied the most are cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based therapy. Both treatments have been shown to improve depression and anxiety in the general population, and both have been shown to be effective in adults with autism. However, it is not clear what treatment is most effective for adults with autism or whether patient characteristics may influence treatment response and appropriateness. This project is designed to bridge this gap.

The researchers partnered with the PCORI-funded Stakeholder Engagement Group of Adults with Autism and Other Stakeholders Engage Together (AASET) to develop this proposal. This collaborative study aims to provide knowledge to help patients and clinicians select the most effective mental health intervention for autistic adults with depression and anxiety.

Read more about the study here and about other PCORI projects here.

UNU School of Medicine contact: Mark Derewich

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