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Troubled Youth Getting Mental Health From BioMed’s Doctor Bowen Chung

October 9, 2012

Approximately 14 percent of individuals suffering from depression and other mental health issues in the United States are minorities in underserved communities, yet very few medications or psychosocial interventions have been developed utilizing the participation of these groups. This year, Bowen Chung, M.D. – principal investigator at The Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed) – will change that when two unique studies are initiated: the first study will utilize intervention that focuses on families to improve outcomes for psychotic and bipolar adolescents and young adults, while the second study will evaluate the benefit of classes that teach skills to improve mood and resiliency in the face of daily stresses.

Working with lead investigator David Miklowitz, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, and funded by a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Chung’s first project involves family-focused therapy. Family-focused therapy has been in development and tested for nearly 20 years, yet much of the research has been conducted in an academic setting. Testing this approach for the first time in a community setting, Drs. Chung and Miklowitz will be working to train clinicians at county agencies in the Los Angeles area. The study seeks to determine if increased training for clinicians will impact how treatment is delivered, and if family therapy treatment will be effective on the patients.

Family-focused therapy is evidence-based therapy that has been shown to improve outcomes for bipolar and psychotic youth by improving adherence to medication and decreasing the likelihood of depression, which is a major problem for young adults with bipolar disorder.

“What’s unique and exciting about this therapy is that it involves the entire family rather than just the individual,” said Dr. Chung. “It focuses on improving sleep patterns, recognizing impending episodes, problem-solving skills, and increased communication between family members to help improve outcomes.”

For the second study, Dr. Chung and his colleagues have partnered with local social service agencies, churches, and health advocacy organizations to train non-mental health professionals to deliver a resiliency class. Entitled “Building Resiliency and Community Hope,” the study helps to provide individuals suffering from depression with the necessary skills to improve mood, and enhance the ability to bounce back from the stresses of daily living in urban Los Angeles.

The study — developed in conjunction with UCLA and supported by the California Community Foundation and UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s offices at LA BioMed/Harbor-UCLA – includes a six-session class based on cognitive-behavioral therapy principles and will be delivered by non-professionals. This class was developed by the community and academic partners of another NIMH-funded study, Community Partners in Care.

The impetus for this project was the need for psychosocial intervention to enhance mood in neighborhoods such as South Los Angeles where access to health care and mental health services is limited. The two lead community organizations, Healthy African American Families II and the First African Presbyterian Church, will partner with Dr. Chung during all steps of the research process to ensure that the study aligns with the needs and priorities of residents in the Centinela Valley in South Los Angeles.

The pilot study will begin this fall and involve approximately 20 people, while the second phase will be a randomized trial that begins in winter 2013.

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