Mental Health & Cognition

At SPH, we explore mental health and cognition from all angles, including the role of genes and environments, mental health care and its costs, brain function, and associations between mental and physical health.

We identify people at risk for mental health challenges and help shape interventions.

Our work emphasizes a life course approach, paying attention to significant periods in a person’s life that may make them especially vulnerable to mental illness, such as adolescence, postpartum, and old age.

We strive to bring relief and hope to the estimated 1-in-5 Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness and — by pushing the boundaries of what we know about the brain and what we need to discover — to those with memory loss, a population expected to triple by the year 2030.

Our desire to give everyone the chance for a healthier, stable life drives our mental health and cognition research.

Faculty leads

Sonya Brady
Associate Professor
Donna McAlpine
Associate Professor

Learn more about our research

In our mental health and cognition research, we tackle complicated situations that call for increased action, like how living in lower-quality neighborhoods produces stress and higher levels of depressive symptoms in African American women during pregnancy. And unexpected findings can have significant effects on mental health policy and programming, like results that show Somalia-born adults were more likely to report better mental health than either U.S.-born Black or White Americans and a recent study that discovered how peers might influence the use of mental health services by fellow college students.

To help meet the needs of an aging population —10,000 U.S. baby boomers a day are turning 65 and 20 percent of the world’s people will be over the age of 60 by 2050 — we are deepening our investigation into neurological and cardiovascular factors related to memory, cognition, and mental health.

A recent study, for example, found that persistently high depressive symptoms were associated with increased first stroke risk. Another looked at the association between pre-stroke and post-stroke memory decline.

At the School of Public Health, we assess drug protocols and new treatment modalities for better mental health, and why, how, and if some drugs are successful. Using functional MRI, one study examined changes in brain activation and functional connectivity in adolescents with major depressive disorder before and after receiving treatment.

True to our goal of making health — including mental health — a human right for all, we work to remove barriers to care, especially as they involve health policies and systems like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Our findings often support wise policies, like a study that found that expanding the ACA to cover previously uninsured young adults coincided with more in-patient psychiatric care nationwide and fewer ER visits for psychiatric care in California.

Explore our work in Mental Health & Cognition

(* asterisk marks SPH student, post-doc, or researcher at time of study)

  • Effects of Cognition, Function, and Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms on Out-of-Pocket Medical and Nursing Home Expenditures and Time Spent Caregiving for Persons with Dementia. (​Alzheimer’s & Dementia). Eric Jutkowitz*, Karen Kuntz, Brian Dowd, Joseph Gaugler, Richard MacLehose, Robert Kane. This research found that different clinical features of dementia did not predict a person having out-of-pocket medical expenses. However, it found that higher cognition and poorer function were associated with more spending; and poorer function and behavioral and psychological symptoms predicted the probability of receiving care.
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Problematic Overeating Behaviors in Young Men and Women. (Annals of Behavioral Medicine). Susan Mason, Patricia A. Frazier, S. Bryn Austin, Bernard Harlow, Benita Jackson, Nancy C. Raymond, Janet W. Rich-Edwards. PTSD is a risk factor for obesity, but the range of behaviors that contribute to this association were not known. This study found that having depression symptoms along with PTSD symptoms further increased risk of binge eating and coping-motivated eating. All eating behaviors were associated with obesity.
  • Self-Reported Mental Disorders and Distress by Sexual Orientation: Results of the Minnesota College Student Health Survey. (American Journal of Preventative Medicine). Julia Przedworski*, Nicole VanKim*, Marla Eisenberg, Donna McAlpine, Katherine Lust, Melissa LaskaThis study found that all sexual minority college students, with the exception of unsure men, experience worse mental health than their heterosexual peers.
  • Effects of Electronic Psychiatric Consultations on Primary Care Provider Perceptions of Mental Health Care: Survey Results from a Randomized Evaluation. (Healthcare). Ezra Golberstein, Sarah Kolvenbach, Hilary Carruthers, Benjamin Druss, Paul Goering. This research found that the electronic consultation system eConsults’ psychiatric model improved primary care physicians’ perceptions of support for delivering mental health care and of access to specialist.
  • Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in US Adults With Moderate Mental Distress: Results From the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. (Journal of Primary Care & Community Health). Taeho Rhee*, Roni Evans, Donna McAlpine, Pamela Jo Johnson. This study found that adults with moderate mental distress are more likely to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and the use of CAM differed by race/ethnicity, with Blacks and Hispanics being the least likely to use CAM.
  • Lynn Eberly: 2016–2021, NIH, “A Longitudinal Study Examining Three RDoC Constructs in Adolescents with Non-Suicidal Self-Injury,” Co-Investigator
  • Haitao Chu: 2012–2017, NIH/NHLBI, “The Intercranaial Atherosclerotic Disease and Cognitive Impairment Study,” Co-Investigator
  • Ezra Golberstein: 2015–2017, Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation, “Mental Health eConsults,” Principal Investigator
  • Mental Health in Somali Youth: The Role of Protective Factors in Preventing Depressive Symptoms (Maternal and Child Health)
  • Relationships and Clinical Implications of Parent Depression on Adolescent Growth (Public Health Informatics)
  • Mental Health and Health Care Utilization Among Transition Age Youth (Health Services Research, Policy and Administration)
  • The Effects of Job-Related Strains and Stressors on Mental Health (Environmental Health)
  • Housing Support for Individuals with Serious Mental Illness (Public Health Administration & Policy)

Faculty in Mental Health & Cognition

Faculty Leads

Sonya Brady
Associate Professor

Donna McAlpine
Associate Professor


SPH2030 New Faculty Hires

Timothy Beebe

Professor Timothy Beebe develops and tests health measures and evaluates new data collection methods. His research interests also include health care policy and racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

Mark Fiecas

Assistant Professor Mark Fiecas’ research looks at how the brain ages. He focuses on high-dimensional time series data, especially neuroimaging data related to brain signals and cognitive function.

Assistant Professor Linda Frizzell advises on health care policy and long-term care for tribal health. She was recently named to the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Minority Health.

Other Faculty

© 2015 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved. The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy Statement