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Responding to the Mental Health Crisis with Research

April 26, 2022
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There is no shortage of evidence to indicate that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis that is continuing to accelerate. Whether it is the sharp increase in adolescents and adults reporting symptoms of mental illness in the wake of the pandemic; the alarming rise in youth suicides; or deepening divisions, conflict, and instability on the world stage, understanding the psychological difficulties facing a growing number of people and the underlying social determinants that contribute to complex psychiatric difficulties has never been more important.
To understand these issues, we need research to help discover root causes, propose viable solutions, and elaborate the context for what are often complex and nuanced problems. For its part, the Austen Riggs Center has long embraced a strong commitment to research, embedded in the Riggs mission through the Erikson Institute for Education, Research, and Advocacy.
Riggs and its staff have an established record as internationally respected leaders in the field of mental health treatment. Today, a number of Riggs staff members are actively engaged in research projects that consistently contribute important perspectives on clinical issues. 
Recent studies approved by Riggs’ Institutional Review Board (IRB) have focused on 
  • The longitudinal course of suicide thinking and behavior
  • Loneliness and mental health during COVID-19
  • Eating disorders and metacognition
  • Social cognition, interpersonal functioning, and personality disorders
Building on Riggs’ rich tradition of clinical research, Katie C. Lewis, PhD, was recently named Director of Research. This appointment acknowledges and further formalizes the critical and growing role research will play in the future of the Erikson Institute.
“Dr. Lewis strengthens our research program through her skill as a careful methodologist, her theoretical sophistication, and her collaborative spirit working with colleagues and trainees at Austen Riggs and other academic institutions,” remarked Jane G. Tillman, PhD, the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Director of the Erikson Institute.
Indeed, Riggs researchers are currently working on several active projects in partnership with scholars at Rutgers University, Long Island University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences, West Chester University, Universidad de Monterrey, University of West of England, Penn State-Altoona, and Yale School of Public Health, to name a few.
“The Austen Riggs Center, and the Erikson Institute in particular, are in an exciting phase of growth with many opportunities to expand our internal clinical research programs and broaden our partnerships with other leading research institutions,” Lewis said. “I am excited to lead the Research Department as we work to better understand and address some of the root causes contributing to the growing mental health concerns we face as a society.”
You can learn more about Riggs’ current and past research projects here: www.austenriggs.org/education-research/research
About Katie C. Lewis, PhD
Lewis is the director of research and a medical staff member at the Austen Riggs Center. Her research focuses on examining personality processes in adults diagnosed with complex psychopathology as they relate to suicidal and self-destructive behaviors. Her research has been supported by the Robert Wallerstein Fellowship in Psychoanalytic Research (San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis), a Young Investigator Grant through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant through the NIMH, and the APF/Division 39 Marsha McCary Grant for Psychoanalytic Research. Read more.