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Brenna Maddox, PhD, at the UNC School of Medicine, will lead a study to help autistic adults, clinicians, and other key stakeholders select which mental health intervention is the best fit for individual patients.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) announced the approval of funding totaling $96 million for 18 new research studies, including $4 million for a study to assess which mental health intervention – cognitive-behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based therapy –  is the best fit to help autistic adults.

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

Autistic adults are at a greater risk for mental health problems compared to the general population. Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions that can lead to long-term negative effects on health, day-to-day functioning, and quality of life. In addition, depression and anxiety increase the risk of suicide.

Autistic adults have identified mental health as a top research priority; however, studies have not yet been conducted to determine which interventions are most helpful for autistic adults. The two mental health interventions that have been studied 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 shown to be effective for autistic adults. However, it is not clear which treatment is most effective for autistic adults or whether patient characteristics may affect treatment response and fit. This project is designed to fill this gap.

The researchers partnered with the PCORI-funded stakeholder engagement group Autistic Adults 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 the other PCORI projects here.

UNC School of Medicine contact: Mark Derewicz