The University Record, February 5, 2001

$3 million grant from NIH agency funds new center to study mental health and illness in children and adults

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

With a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, the new U-M Center for Development and Mental Health officially opened Jan. 31 at the Center for Human Growth and Development (CHGD).

“The new center will facilitate longitudinal research on the factors that contribute to mental health and illness from infancy to adulthood,” says Arnold J. Sameroff, CHGD senior research scientist, professor of psychology and director of the new center. “We hope to identify the personal and social characteristics that influence a successful passage through life. Our ultimate goal is to provide a firmer basis for prevention and intervention efforts that foster mental health throughout the life span.”

“The new center grant is wonderful for the University and for everyone involved,” says Betsy Lozoff, CHGD director and professor of pediatrics. “It allows a group of outstanding researchers from all around campus to access issues of mental health and development in a broader way than previously possible. Collaborations among LS&A, the Medical School, the School of Social Work and the School of Education are exactly the kind of interdisciplinary efforts that the Center for Human Growth and Development seeks to foster.”

The new center already has initiated three new research projects.

  • Delia M. Vázquez, associate professor of pediatrics and CHGD associate research scientist, is heading an interdisciplinary team that will examine the interaction of biological, psychological and social functioning on behavior in order to elucidate the impact of stress hormones during early development. “We will focus on infants who have problems of physiological regulation, such as excessive crying, sleep disturbances and feeding problems,” Vázquez explains. “We know that these infants have an increased risk of problems in emotional, social and cognitive functioning, and this study will help us correlate physiological markers with individual coping strategies in both children and their caretakers.”

    Arnold Sameroff and Betsy Lozoff. Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services

  • The second research project is headed by Vonnie C. McLoyd, CHGD senior research scientist and professor of psychology. The project will draw together data from five sites—Flint; Philadelphia; Prince George’s County, Md.; Milwaukee; and the nationally representative Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement, conducted by the Institute for Social Research—to determine how economic stress affects the social and emotional functioning of adolescents. “Our aims are to evaluate a model that explains the effects of economic hardship on children’s social and emotional adjustment by examining the effects of poverty on parents’ mental health and child-rearing behavior,” McLoyd states.

  • The third project, headed by Sameroff, will assess the life success and mental health of 30-year-olds who have been studied since birth. “We will contrast the developmental course of groups of young adults who were at high or low environmental risk during their infancy, childhood and adolescence,” Sameroff says. “We’ll compare the life histories of resilient and non-resilient individuals to identify the factors that led them to more or less successful current life situations. We also hope to look at the mental health of participants’ children to determine the extent that parents’ assets and liabilities are passed on to their offspring.”

    Vonnie McLoyd and Lloyd D. Johnston, Distinguished Senior Research Scientist, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research. Johnston is the principal investigator of the ‘Monitoring the Future Study.’ Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
    In addition to the new research projects, the Center for Development and Mental Health will integrate and disseminate information from more than 40 existing U-M longitudinal studies of mental health covering individuals from infancy to senescence. The center also will initiate research facilitation groups to help investigators in designing and analyzing developmental studies of mental health, and sponsor annual workshops bringing together national and international experts in development and mental health.