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DeWine, Ohio State University announce decade-long mental health and addiction study

The SOAR study logo on a screen at Ohio State University.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
The SOAR study logo on a screen at Ohio State University.

Ten Ohio universities will embark on a 10-year mental health study, assisted by an initial $20 million grant from the state, state and higher education leaders announced Friday morning.

Doctors and researchers leading the SOAR study—headquartered at Ohio State University and led by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center—want to use the decade to get at the root causes of mental illness, suicide and addiction. SOAR stands for State of Ohio Action for Resiliency, and the network behind it was created in the state budget, funded with $30 million for a year last June.

The SOAR website touts how there has “never been a research effort like this in the history of mental health.”

Plow trucks cleared snow-covered roads outside Friday, but inside the Energy Advancement and Innovation Center at Ohio State, Gov. Mike DeWine called it a “beautiful” day for Ohio as he detailed the investment.

“This project is very significant,” DeWine said after the event. “What would shock people to know, and it shocked me, is that the amount of research that's been done on other medical challenges is much greater than what's been done in the whole area of mental health.”

Unlike more traditional studies of health and wellness, Dr. Luan Phan, chair of Ohio State’s psychiatrist and behavioral health program, said participants won’t have to come to an academic medical center.

“This is why the great strategy across the SOAR study is to bring science and treatment to the people where they are at, where they live, where they work,” Phan said. Phan will serve as its principal investigator.

It will include two projects—a widescale wellness discovery survey done in all 88 counties and a brain health study done on a few thousand family participants.

The target of the multigenerational study is to uncover risk factors for mental health and substance abuse, Phan said, in the same way the ongoing Framingham Heart Study has done for cardiovascular health. That study began in 1948 on residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, and has since revealed certain contributing factors in heart disease.

More information about the SOAR study can be found here.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.