Research Program Objectives

The overriding objectives of the research funded by the Danny Alberts Foundation are to develop and test new psychological treatments to prevent depressive and manic relapses, prevent suicidality, and improve quality of life in persons with bipolar disorder (BD). Most people with BD are treated only with medications. There is little doubt that medications are a central component of the successful treatment of this disorder, but we believe equally strongly that optimal treatment should be a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatments. Little is known, however, about what kinds of therapy are most effective for people with BD, how long they should be administered, or at what point in the illness they should begin. Thus, the Foundation is helping to fill an important gap in our knowledge of effective ways to treat BD.

Promising Treatment Studies

The Foundation has supported studies of novel psychosocial interventions in both the US and the UK. We have emphasized research on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), an 8-session group treatment involving meditation and cognitive-behavioral skills training. MBCT has been shown to be effective for people with major depression, but prior to the Alberts Foundation studies had never been tested with people with bipolar disorder. The first funded trial involved 22 people with BD treated with MBCT at Oxford University and the University of Colorado. Over a 3 month period, people who received the groups showed significant improvements in depression, suicidal thinking, and anxiety. We concluded that MBCT shows considerable promise as a treatment for depression and suicidality among people with BD. There is now a need for controlled research (trials that have a control group and involve random allocation to treatments) to determine whether MBCT will improve the course of BD over time.

Cutting Edge Research on MBCT and Perinatal Women with Depression

From 2008-present, the Foundation has been supported a cutting-edge study of MBCT for women with depression and bipolar disorder who are perinatal (pregnant or recently postpartum). Pregnancy and the 1-year period postpartum period are high risk intervals for recurrence among people with severe mood disorders. This second study, which involves 33 women with BD or major depression treated at the University of Colorado or the UCLA School of Medicine, is examining whether MBCT is associated with improvements in depression and anxiety, and corresponding improvements in the ability to “think mindfully” about the world. The study will conclude in early January and the results will be posted here.

MBCT Treatment Study on High Risk Youth

Future studies funded by the Foundation may concern the use of mindfulness treatment for adolescents with bipolar disorder. Adolescence is a time of considerable instability even in the best of circumstances, but is particularly rocky for persons who develop bipolar disorder. Youths with BD are at high risk for suicide, substance abuse, self-injurious behavior, and academic and social impairments. Their families have a particularly rough time in finding effective treatments beyond medications. We hope to show that brief treatments like MBCT forestall the development of more severe courses of illness and improve quality of life for adolescents and their family members.