Brown School researcher to study mental health on global scale

$2.9 million NIMH grant will allow Leopoldo J. Cabassa to focus on Chile

Leopoldo J. Cabassa, associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, is part of a team that has received a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study interventions for people suffering from mental health issues in Chile.

“This project is a multidisciplinary collaboration and partnership that aims to improve the quality of care and outcome for people and families with first episode psychosis in Chile,” Cabassa said. “I’m bringing my expertise and experiences in implementation science and health disparities research to this global mental health study.”


First episode psychosis (FEP) refers to the first time someone experiences psychotic symptoms or a psychotic episode. People experiencing a first episode may not understand what is happening. The symptoms can be highly disturbing and unfamiliar, leaving the person and their family members confused and distressed.

The overarching goal of the grant is to address the shortfall in evidence-based practices for FEP in Chile by first adapting OnTrackChile from OnTrackNY, a coordinated specialty care program for FEP currently being implemented across the United States, and then implementing and evaluating the effectiveness of OnTrackChile on a wide scale.

Cabassa is part of a four-member, principal investigator team led by Rubén Alvarado from the Universidad de O’Higgings in Chile that also includes Ezra S. Susser from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; and Lisa Dixon from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the developer and director of OnTrackNY.

Substantial data support early interventions for people experiencing first episode psychosis to help with symptoms and minimize disability. FEP programs have been widely and successfully implemented in high-income countries. With the partial exception of Chile, however, there is not a single low- and middle-income country that offers universal access to FEP services, Cabassa said.

“Chile is unique in having created a platform for the implementation of FEP services, including a FEP policy that mandates identification of FEP individuals at primary care and delivery of community-based FEP treatments at community mental health centers and a public health care system within which this mandate can be fulfilled,” Cabassa said.

“Nonetheless, the team in Chile  has documented that FEP services provided at community mental health clinics do not conform to recently established, evidence-based approaches. OnTrack Chile aims to address this important gap in services,” he said.

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