“Without mental health there is no health.”

– Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and Dean of Morehouse School of Medicine

What is the mission of AIM?

AIM is building a movement devoted to the mental health of children, teens, and young adults by funding research to find better treatments and cures, and by raising awareness.

What mental disorders is AIM focusing on?

AIM will fund research to find better treatments and cures for any and all youth mental health challenges including ADHD, anxiety, depression, mood disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, personality disorders, autism spectrum developmental disorders, asperger’s and neurodevelopmental disorders, OCD and related disorders, conduct disorders, addictive disorders, trauma and stressor related disorders, etc.

AIM will also fund research for the bi-products of some of these brain disorders including eating disorders, addiction, substance abuse, and suicide.

Why is AIM’s focus so broad?

Two reasons.  First, AIM is creating a movement not only to fund research but also to raise awareness of all mental health disorders that need brain research.  Second, brain disorders overlap.  Research into one disorder may find answers that help other disorders.*(see footnote below)

What age group is AIM’s focus?

Symptoms and behaviors associated with mental and developmental disorders are most often manifested in childhood through young adulthood, so AIM considers “youth” to be up to 26 years old.  Current research suggests that the brain has its most plasticity until a person’s mid-20s, underlining the need for early intervention.

What does AIM stand for?

AIM is not an acronym but a positive, forward-thinking word that is easy to remember!

What does AIM do?

AIM is building a vital movement to encourage talk about kids’ mental health. AIM has created a community model – a sort-of “AIM in a box”- which can be followed by communities, large or small.  The model is one annual fundraising event to raise money for research and one walk/rally or sporting event to raise awareness among kids and their families and friends.

Where and When did AIM start?

AIM was founded on the Monterey Peninsula, California in 2014.

Who founded AIM?

Susan Stilwell and her family founded AIM to fill a tremendous void in our society.  When asked, “If you want to help find cures for kids’ mental health disorders, where do you donate?” most people pause and can’t think of an answer.  Susan and her daughter, Sydney, were members of the National Charity League.  It dawned on them while volunteering for numerous non-profits that not one of the charities focused on youth mental health, despite the fact that it is estimated that 1 in 5 kids today face mental challenges, and that number is growing.  In developing this new organization, which is essentially building a new business, Susan brings skills from her years of practicing business law, managing hospitality and other businesses, sitting on numerous non-profit boards, and raising three children.  Her husband, Mark, also an attorney, executive, and President of the Carmel School Board, has been actively involved in developing AIM, too!

What are AIM’s accomplishments to date?

AIM has held three fundraising dinners in Pebble Beach, California, raising over $1 million for brain research.  $700,000 has been disbursed to research.  AIM has held three walks/rallies in Pacific Grove, California, with hundreds of people attending to raise awareness.

How is AIM’s campaign spreading?

AIM is organizing walks/rallies at several universities, including already planning for walks at USC and UCLA.  AIM has been contacted by many people throughout the country who want to start a campaign in their communities.

Is AIM a nonprofit and can I deduct my donations to AIM?

Yes, all donations to AIM since its founding in 2014 are tax deductible.  In July 2016, AIM for Mental Health received its nonprofit status as a public charity and its own federal tax ID number as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.  Prior to operating under its own public charity status, AIM was a charitable campaign under the fiscal sponsorship of the International Mental Health Research Organization (“IMHRO”), now called One Mind Institute, which has its own tax ID.

Who decides where your donations go?

While under the fiscal sponsorship of IMHRO, AIM’s disbursements to brain research were determined by IMHRO’s Scientific Advisory Board, made up of 10 top brain scientists.  We are currently establishing AIM’s own Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) comprised of top clinical pediatric doctors from around the nation as well as the UK.  All research funded by AIM will be part of the data sharing movement promoting collaboration among researchers. AIM’s Board of Directors and SAB want to promote the most efficient, organized research whether it is a collaboration among institutions and doctors or an independent grant to one researcher, such as a Rising Star Award.  A consistent goal of our research is to find answers to provide better treatments now.

What has AIM funded to date?

To date, AIM has disbursed almost $700,000 to clinical research focused on youth mental health.  This includes two Rising Star Awards in the amount of $250,000 each to young doctors researching anxiety and depression in children and teens. 

What is a Rising Star?

A Rising Star is an emerging leader in brain research who has a cutting-edge research proposal.  AIM’s Board of Directors defines the type of research that we would like to fund.  The SAB sends out a request for proposals to researchers at many research institutions/universities and then awards a Rising Star Award to the project that the SAB feels is the most worthwhile. Each Rising Star receives $250,000 over a 3 year period to fund their studies. 

In August 2016, AIM awarded a Rising Star Award to Dr. Kate Fitzgerald, from the University of Michigan, who is testing the neurobiological and behavioral effects of an original psychosocial treatment aimed to strengthen effortful control, a cognitive skill that may help remedy clinical anxiety in preschoolers.

Previously, AIM disbursed $180,000 to UCLA’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, which studies the brain and neuropsychiatric disorders in children and adults using advanced brain imaging, specifically functional and structural MRI.  AIM funds have supported several new projects and provided seed money for future federal grants. MRI-based research, directly fueled by AIM, includes studies into understanding the sensory hypersensitivity of children with anxiety and autism to better inform treatment, a pilot program to examine the unique brain chemistry of patients with schizophrenia which may lead to new pharmacological approaches, and a study to measure the effectiveness of cognitive training in methamphetamine abusers.  The UCLA Center, dedicated to identifying risks for mental illness and new preventative treatments, also used AIM funds for a study of adolescents at high risk for developing psychosis, to identify early changes in social responsiveness.  These results will be submitted to the NIH for a larger grant.  Lastly, the AIM grant funded a pilot project to better understand how the brains of those vulnerable to depression respond to cognitive behavioral therapy and how this treatment normalizes the brain’s response.

AIM has also funded a Rising Star Award in the amount of $250,000 to Katie McLaughlin, a Ph.D. and Assistant Professor at the University of Washington.  Her project will examine, for the first time, how stressful life events (SLE’s) cause changes in the emotions, behaviors, and physiology of children, including the linkage between SLEs and anxiety and depression. The goal of her research is to identify new interventions for kids who are affected by SLE’s to try to prevent the onset of anxiety and depression.  Katie is a cutting-edge researcher with degrees from Virginia, Penn, Yale, and Harvard, and we are excited to provide her with the financial support she needs to continue her research.

What is clinical research?

AIM is committed to human research and will not fund any research on animals.  Clinical research is a branch of healthcare science that determines the safety and effectiveness (efficacy) of medications, devices, diagnostic products and treatment regimens intended for human use. These may be used for prevention, treatment, diagnosis or for relieving symptoms of a disease.

Why is clinical brain research so needed?

The clinical psychiatrists who are on the front lines with kids have told us that there are many unfunded research projects that, if funded, would lead to better treatments and possibly cures in the short-term.  We aim to help kids NOW.

Here are quotes from several top clinical doctors explaining the validity of clinical research:

“In medicine and particularly in mental health, funding is urgently needed for both 1. basic science, the understanding of the inner workings of cells (including neurons) and the unfathomable complexity of the brain, and 2. clinical science, which deals with developing (and disseminating) evidence-based treatments for a range of disorders and conditions.

Back in the early 1970s Nixon declared a war on cancer, which was criticized because how could cancer be conquered if there wasn’t even fundamental knowledge, at that time, about cell division, cell proliferation, and cell death.  Arguably, now–with greater knowledge–clinical science can be promoted to battle cancer (but we still don’t know all the relevant processes).

What about conquering mental illness clinically now?  Some would argue that it’s too early, as we still don’t know enough about the brain and about mind-body connections.  True, but on the other hand, today’s evidence-based treatments for child, adolescent, and adult forms of mental illness do work–providing effects that, on average, are on par with the effects of most treatments for medical conditions.  Alas, there are no cures yet for mental illness — but there are not, either, for chronic, multifactorial illnesses, either (coronary disease, cancers, Alzheimer’s, etc.).  And it is a legitimate goal to develop, test, and better disseminate clinical treatments. Any given organization may not be able to fund both basic and applied efforts.”

One prominent researcher at Mass General wrote: “Much of the shift in government funding has focused on basic mechanisms of disease leaving the actual care of groups of children, particularly those with mental health conditions, uncovered.  Moreover, biologics and pharmaceuticals have dramatically reduced their involvement in treatments for children.  Given that a majority of mental health issues emerge in childhood, better understanding and treating these disorders in children not only improves the suffering of the children and their families, but changes the trajectory of these children as they age into adulthood.” 

And a doctor at Stanford wrote:  “We want to fund clinical research because it is harder and harder to get this kind of research funded nowadays.  The NIMH, which funds
most mental health research, has turned to funding more basic/bench research. They want to find mechanisms for how the brain works. That is important and should yield information that will eventually lead to clinical breakthroughs. But that is 10-20-more years away.  Pharmaceutical companies still fund some clinical research, but they have their own specific goals and usually don’t fund enough of biological research other than medication trials.  So clinical researchers are becoming extinct, and more dependent on philanthropy and charitable organizations to provide their funding.”

How can you raise awareness toward cures?

You can help people understand that mental illnesses are brain diseases, rooted in biology, which can be addressed through medical treatment, just like other diseases.  These brain diseases are actually quite commonplace and the #1 cause of adult disability in the world.  We want to promote the need for early intervention in our youth.  Although current modes and systems of treatment are often inadequate to heal patients fully, research and policy advocacy can make satisfactory care, routine recovery, and even cures possible.  We want get people talking about cures for mental and developmental brain disorders!

Footnote:

* While we understand that some foundations specialty focus, AIM seeks to fund the most promising projects or innovative ideas across different mental health areas, primarily because of the overlap in conditions (autistic spectrum patients can get severely depressed, schizophrenia can be hard to distinguish from autism spectrum in younger patients, etc.).

One clinical psychiatrist at Stanford wrote: “While Foundations have traditionally focused on specific disorders, they have been more flexible in funding innovative research and some have broadened the scope of their focus. A good example is what used to be NARSAD (National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression) that is now “The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.”  This Foundation is now funding a wide range of research that ranges from schizophrenia to bipolar to autism. It is one of the most successful foundations that is focused on mental health disorders. My hope is that AIM will mirror what NARSAD has accomplished but with a focus on pediatric psychopathology. The more we learn about these disorders, the more we become aware that they are all related. Schizophrenia, ADHD, and autism share a large number of the same genes. These observations have led the NIMH [National Institute of Mental Health] to focus on studying constructs that cut across disorders through the development of the Research Domain Criteria and in an attempt to stay away from arbitrary categorical characterization. It is more progressive to avoid focusing on specific diagnosis and think about symptoms in a dimensional way and studying them in different disorders… examples of these symptoms include reactivity to stress, resiliency, social deficits, and emotional reactivity…”