July 14, 2023

The UNC-Chapel Hill Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research is pleased to announce two winners of the 2022-2023 competitive funding for the Creativity Hubs Pilot Award.

One group, titled the “Systems Science Hub: Youth Mental Health,” will be supported by three researchers from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Now in its sixth year, the Creativity Hubs program provides seed funding for Carolina researchers to explore new science with an emphasis on convergence, sustainability, innovation and impact.

Systems Science Hub logo

Investigator Team: Samantha Schilling, School of Medicine, Principal Investigator (PI); Paul Lanier, School of Social Work, co-PI; Kirsten Hassmiller Lich, Michael Kosorok and Mark Holmes, Gillings School of Global Public Health; Kori Flower, Stephanie Brennan and Brianna Lombardi, School of Medicine

Dr. Kristen Hassmiller Lich

Dr. Kristen Hassmiller Lich

North Carolina has the highest prevalence in the nation of children living with an untreated mental health diagnosis. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this crisis and exposed the ineffectiveness of the state’s mental health system.

Nationally, nearly one in five children have a mental health disorder and suicide is currently the second-leading cause of death for children ages 10-17. Still, only 20% of these children ever receive treatment from a mental health provider.

“As a primary care pediatrician, I’ve seen first-hand the mental health crisis affecting children in North Carolina. Youth mental health is one of the biggest public health problems we face and now is the time to act,” says PI Samantha Schilling. “We are well-positioned to take action with an incredible team of scientists, mental health experts and our critical partners.”

Applying innovative data science methods to existing data offers an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of a highly stressed and fragmented mental health system.

Dr. Michael Kosorok

Dr. Michael Kosorok

In collaboration with the UNC School of Data Science and Society, this hub will combine participatory methods and data science to build a complex simulation model of the system. Then, researchers will apply machine learning methods to improve modeling efficiency and identify patterns from large administrative datasets.

The findings will provide a platform for data scientists to work directly with policymakers, public health leaders, clinical providers, community members and experts across scientific disciplines to design systems that improve the mental health of children across North Carolina.

The project is grounded in an ongoing partnership with N.C. Integrated Care for Kids and is critical for gaining family, community and stakeholder input and for translating findings into real-world changes.

Dr. Mark Holmes stands in front of a rural hospital.

Dr. Mark Holmes

The hub will also leverage regularly updated health system data available through the Sheps Center for Health Services Research in the form of health insurance enrollment and claims from N.C. Medicaid and Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. The use of system dynamics and data science has not been applied to the youth mental health crisis to date, and the multidisciplinary team — with representatives of both the Department of Biostatistics and the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Gillings School — aims to create lasting impact by leveraging this approach.

“The Creativity Hubs award will be a game-changer for our research team,” says co-PI Paul Lanier. “With this funding, we’ll have the resources needed to bring an amazing collaborative group together and apply our collective skills to this critical issue. We hope the data will help us understand what has transpired with youth mental health services over the past few years and tell the story about how the system can better support families.”

Learn more about the Creativity Hubs and the other winning project in the original post from UNC Research.

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