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Meet the people behind new breakthroughs in mental health research and care

VCU Health and VCU are global leaders in mental health research, care and education.

Man looking at MRI of a brain. VCU Health and VCU faculty play an integral role in researching mental health conditions and developing new treatment approaches. (MCV Foundation)

By MCV Foundation Staff

The state of care and accessibility to treatment for mental health conditions has been a growing concern across the nation, particularly as adults and young people continue to recover from the emotional impacts of the pandemic. In the United States, one in five adults experience mental illness each year, and less than half of them receive treatment.

VCU Health is home to some of the top minds anywhere in the world when it comes to mental health care, research and education.

"The number one cause of disability in the world amongst adults is depression,” said Robert Findling, M.D., M.B.A., Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research at the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine and MCV Foundation board member. “So doing more of the same isn't going to get us where we need to go. We have to work to find different answers and different solutions to the problems that we have. And that is why our department of psychiatry is so focused on innovation to make our patients’ lives better.”


What differentiates psychiatry at VCU in Central Virginia from its peers locally is that in addition to delivering leading-edge patient care and using the newest technology to improve lives, faculty and researchers are changing the way psychiatry is understood, practiced and taught around the world.

That influence on how treatment and other approaches can be improved upon is why Priscilla Cash directed part of her father's estate to support research and patient care at VCU.

Cash’s father was diagnosed and successfully treated for mental illness during his lifetime, and in mid-life, Cash also found herself facing the realities of depression and anxiety.

“Because you never know the experience of the person beside you, philanthropy — giving or assisting in that way if you can — can help your neighbor, your friend, your coworker, and you may not even know it,” she said. “Maybe the way we treat will change. Maybe there will be less of a trial-and-error period for medications. Maybe there can be some precision medicine that has not existed to this point.”

“This is not just wishful thinking,” Findling said. “We have the foundation, the building blocks, to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Below are some examples of how VCU alumni and faculty members are making that impact.

Man sits at desk with bookshelf behind him

Ken Kendler, M.D., is the world's second-most cited psychiatrist. (MCV Foundation)

No discussion of VCU psychiatry is complete without mention of Ken Kendler, M.D., who is the world's second-most cited psychiatrist. In his 40 years at VCU, he has influenced the practice and research of psychiatry around the world. We explore three of his current projects in “Ken Kendler Circles the Globe in Pursuit of Psychiatry Breakthroughs,” which span the globe and are opening new lines of research in the field.

Woman in a red suit

Susan G. Kornstein, M.D., is a women's health researcher. (Tyler Trumbo, MCV Foundation)

Susan G. Kornstein, M.D. is an MCV Foundation board member and professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at the VCU School of Medicine. She is co-founder and executive director of the VCU Institute for Women’s Health and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women’s Health. Kornstein is an internationally recognized researcher and thought leader with expertise in depression and women’s mental health. She has been a principal investigator on more than 90 research studies in the areas of depression, anxiety disorders, premenstrual syndrome, and sexual dysfunction.

Man sits at desk wearing a suit

James Bjork, Ph.D., is one of the main researchers on the largest nationwide study on adolescent brain development. (MCV Foundation)

James Bjork, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, is a VCU co-principal investigator on the largest adolescent brain development study in U.S. Data collected by researchers at VCU and 20 other sites since 2015 has been the basis for numerous scientific articles on children’s brain development, related to topics such as substance use, sleep, obesity and screen time.

Man stands in front of emergency department

Gerry Moeller, M.D., is the director of VCU’s Wright Center for Clinical and Transitional Research and leads the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies. (MCV Foundation)

VCU is a national leader in treating and researching substance use disorders, implementing a multi-faceted approach that leverages both medication and mental health services with cutting-edge research and ever-expanding clinical care. Among those at the helm is psychiatrist and addiction expert F. Gerard “Gerry” Moeller, M.D., who is the director of VCU’s Wright Center for Clinical and Transitional Research and leads the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies. He met with staff from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during their recent visit to VCU Medical Center and the School of Medicine.