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Our research efforts focus on five critically-important psychiatric disorders:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Anorexia nervosa


Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to perceive the world and to process information. It occurs in 1% of the population and usually appears in adolescence or young adulthood. Schizophrenia is clinically diagnosed by assessing symptoms and functional status. People with the disorder may hear voices, believe their thoughts are being controlled by others, or fear that others are plotting against them. They may not make sense when they talk and be agitated, or by contrast, they may sit for hours without moving or talking.

Schizophrenia has a devastating impact on families and society. Many, but not all, people with schizophrenia are incapable of holding a job or caring for themselves, and must rely on others for assistance. Current medical treatment helps relieve many symptoms of schizophrenia, but may have unpleasant and even dangerous side-effects. Most people who have the disorder cope with symptoms throughout their lives. However, some people with schizophrenia can lead rewarding and meaningful lives with support. We believe that using new research tools, we will rapidly deepen understanding of the genetic and environmental causes of schizophrenia. Ultimately, we hope that our work will help prevent and better treat the illness.

For more information about schizophrenia:

UNC ‘s STEP (Schizophrenia Treatment and Evaluation Program) Community outpatient clinic

National Institute of Mental Health: What is schizophrenia?

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, more formally known as Bipolar Affective Disorder (BPAD), causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. It is considered a “relapsing / remitting” disorder because the symptoms come and go. However, the underlying cause of the symptoms, the disorder itself, is always present, so most people with BPAD need to be on medication or under medical supervision to ensure proper treatment. BPAD is less common than depression, and affects 1-2% of people. Men and women seem to be affected equally, and the disorder usually develops in a person’s late teen or early adult years. More than 50% of people with BPAD experience symptoms before age 25.

UNC Department of Psychiatry patient and family resources: bipolar disorder

National Institute of Mental Health: What is bipolar disorder?


Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a spectrum of developmental disabilities that disturbs a person’s ability to understand and translate what they see, hear, and otherwise sense. A brain disorder, ASD affects an individual’s communication, behavior, and social interactions. Typically, people with ASD have problems interpreting verbal and nonverbal communication and difficulty relating to other people, objects, and events. Increasing scientific evidence suggests a strong genetic component, and ASD is often linked with other disabilities. While some research suggests a physical problem that affects the parts of the brain that process language and information, other research points to an imbalance of brain chemicals. Moreover, a variety of external triggers are associated with ASD. Therefore, it is likely that ASD is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

For more information about autism, click here:

National Institute of Mental Health: What is autism spectrum disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder, or major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.

For more information about depression:

National Institute of Mental Health: What is depression?

Anorexia Nervosa

People who suffer from anorexia nervosa (AN) are unable or unwilling to maintain a normal or expected body weight. Typically, an individual with anorexia nervosa is less than 85% of their expected weight, and continues to be fearful of weight gain. Their thoughts and feelings about their size and shape have profound impact on their sense of self and their self-esteem. They often do not recognize or admit the seriousness of their weight loss and deny that it may have permanent adverse health consequences. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa. In the restricting subtype, people maintain their low body weight purely by restricting food intake and, possibly, by exercise. Individuals with the binge-eating/purging type also restrict their food intake, but also regularly engage in binge eating and/or purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics or enemas. Many people move back and forth between subtypes during the course of their illness.

For more information about anoxeria nervosa, or other eating disorders:

UNC Center for Excellence for Eating Disorders

National Institute of Mental Health: What are eating disorders?