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Ohio State, State of Ohio Launch $20 Million ‘SOAR’ Study

Today, The Ohio State University and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a new research initiative to identify the root causes of the ongoing epidemic of persistent emotional distress, suicide, and drug overdose in the state of Ohio. Led by clinicians and researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and College of Medicine, in collaboration with several Ohio universities, the SOAR Study will investigate the role of biological, psychological, and social factors that underlie this epidemic.

“Ohio must be the model in helping our citizens overcome or adapt to mental health challenges so that they improve mental and physical health, complete an education, attain a good-paying job, support a family, and contribute to our communities,” said Governor DeWine. “We envision that the SOAR Study will jump-start future efforts to learn more about what Ohioans can do to better manage adversity and develop resilience.”

“I want to thank Governor DeWine and the State of Ohio for this major investment in behavioral health. This is a milestone research endeavor and the investment demonstrates Ohio’s strong commitment to mobilizing expertise across the state to improve life for some of our most vulnerable residents,” said Ohio State President Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. “As a public, land-grant university, Ohio State will always have a duty to seek new ways to better meet the mental health needs of Ohioans. Innovative collaborations like this between the university and the state are among the reasons I chose to come to lead a place like Ohio State.” 

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) is funding the statewide research project with an initial $20 million grant. Like other areas of the country, Ohio has seen a rise in mental illness, suicide, and deaths related to drug overdose over the past decade, and the COVID pandemic exacerbated these problems. This research investment demonstrates Ohio’s commitment to improving mental health.

SOAR will study Ohioans in their local communities, using an integrated “bring science to the people” approach. It will create a statewide medical research and development ecosystem to drive continued advances in mental health and substance use prevention science and treatment interventions. 

“This study is another example of how, under Governor DeWine’s leadership, Ohio is positioning itself as a national leader in mental health research and innovation,” said LeeAnne Cornyn, director of OhioMHAS. “The causes of these diseases remain largely a mystery to clinical experts and the public. The SOAR Study has the potential to help future generations better understand risk factors, effective mitigation strategies, and techniques to build resiliency — in short, the study has the potential to curb disease and save lives.” 

The SOAR Study has two parallel but connected projects: 

  • Focusing on breadth, the SOAR Wellness Discovery Survey will engage as many as 15,000 people across all 88 Ohio counties. Researchers want to uncover how strengths and skills may be related to overcoming adversity. Those strengths will inform researchers about which factors to focus on to develop new treatments. This portion is underway with more than 300,000 postcards mailed out to residents statewide.
  • Focusing on depth, the SOAR Brain Health Study will comprehensively study as many as 3,600 Ohioans in family groups to examine the biological, psychological, and social factors that help explain that relationship, such as who does well with adversity, who does not, and why. Those discoveries will help researchers develop personalized treatments.

“This important SOAR Study builds on our long-standing academic health mission, and we are proud to champion this vital research to help all Ohioans,” said John J. Warner, MD, chief executive officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and executive vice president at Ohio State. “Mental health care is health care, and this study will help us inform prevention and treatment strategies to advance patient-centered care and influence the way we train our future care providers.”

The SOAR Study will engage a multidisciplinary team of experts from Bowling Green State University, Central State University, Kent State University, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Case Western/University Hospital-Cleveland, Ohio University, University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, University of Toledo and Wright State University.

“SOAR is our effort to do for addiction, mental illness and mental health, what the Framingham Heart Study researchers did for heart disease and heart health,” said SOAR Study principal investigator K. Luan Phan, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Ohio State. 

Launched in 1948, the multigenerational heart study has enrolled more than 15,000 study participants over 75 years, resulting in major life-saving advancements about heart disease risk factors. 

“Our approach with the SOAR Study will allow us to identify the factors that can be modified to reduce risk and build resilience,” said Phan, who holds the Jeffrey Schottenstein Endowed Chair of Psychiatry and Resilience. “We won’t be able to ‘bend the curve’ on the growing number of deaths of despair such as those from addiction and suicide until we go upstream to better understand their etiology. SOAR is the first-in the nation statewide, multi-generational comprehensive study that will offer a new roadmap for developing better treatments and cures that will improve and save lives.”

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