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Race and Psychosis Intervention Development (RAPID)
PI: Diana Perkins, M.D. and Co-PI: David Penn, Ph.D.
Funded by: NC Department of Health and Human Services

The objective of this project is to develop a culturally tailored treatment for Black Americans with first-episode psychosis (FEP). This project is expected be completed in two phases, with the first phase involving qualitative interviewing of clients, family members, and clinicians with experiences in dealing with FEP. These interviews will be used to inform the development of a culturally tailored treatment manual. The second phase of this project will involve an open pilot trial implementing the interventions outlined in the manual developed in phase one of the project. This project is actively recruiting in phase one.


The Horyzons Project
PI: Diana Perkins, M.D. and Co-PI: David Penn, Ph.D.
Funded by: NC Department of Health and Human Services

Horyzons is a moderated online social therapeutic (MOST) platform developed by Orygen and adapted for Americans with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and first episode psychosis. This platform was built much like a social media platform, but has additional features central to mental health and recovery (such as access to online therapists, peer support specialists, and wellness activities based in psychoeducation and cognitive behavioral therapy). The Horyzons implementation project (N=25) was completed in the spring of 2021, and a larger cohort of participants is currently being recruited for participation in this study during the spring, summer, and fall semesters of 2022.


Targeting Physical Health in Schizophrenia: Physical Activity Can Enhance Life (PACE-Life)
PI: David Penn, Ph.D. and Claudio Battaglini, Ph.D.
Funded by: NIH/NIMH

The objective in this application to conduct an open trial, followed by a small RCT, comparing PACE-Life intervention and using a Fitbit to the Fitbit only control condition for 56 individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorders. During the pandemic, this intervention involved virtual exercise groups held for participants twice a week. This trial has now completed all three cohorts of data collection (completed in March 2022) and has moved into the data analysis phase.


Targeting Stress Reactivity in Schizophrenia: Integrating Coping Awareness Therapy (I-CAT)
PI: Piper Meyer, Ph.D., David Penn, Ph.D. and Diana Perkins, M.D.
Funded by: NIMH

The purpose of this study is to develop and then subsequently evaluated a mindfulness/positive therapy intervention for individuals with first episode psychosis.  Following a manual development period, an open trial of six clients was conducted, which has lead to a small-scale RCT (n=40). The study was completed in January 2020, and we are currently in the data analysis phase of this trial.


Enhancing Recovery for Individuals with First Episode Psychosis: The Horyzons Project
PIs: David Penn, Ph.D., Mario Alvarez, Ph.D., Diana Perkins, M.D., and John Gleeson, Ph.D.
Funded by: Unrestricted gift from Australian Catholic University to UNC

The purpose of this study is to test the feasibility and preliminary benefits of an innovative online behavioral intervention, Horyzons, for individuals with first episode psychosis in the United States. The research is being conducted in collaboration with Drs. Alvarez and Gleeson at Orygen and ACU, and is funded by the state of North Carolina.



Black Americans with Schizophrenia Study (BASS)
PIs: David Penn, Ph.D., Arun Nagendra, Ph.D.

BASS Study:

For Arun’s masters’ thesis, she examined whether race-related variables affect social cognition in a sample of 51 healthy Black American men. Results indicated that participants performed better on a skills-based task factor when their experimenter was also Black, and that greater perceived racism was associated with more perceived hostility in interpersonal situations (see “Recently completed theses and dissertations” tab for more information and associated publication).

The BASS study was designed as a follow up to this project, to examine how race-related factors influence social cognition among Black American women. While data analysis is still on-going for this project, initial analyses were conducted with a sub-sample to investigate how experimenter race and perceived discrimination impacted social cognitive performance among healthy Black women, as well as the mediating effects of physiological reactivity. Future analyses will continue to investigate how physiological reactivity (e.g., heart rate variability, blood pressure) and other risk and resilience factors (e.g., racial identity, social defeat, subclinical paranoia, etc.) may affect Black women’s social cognitive performance in the context of White vs. Black experimenters.

Related studies:

How Often Do US-Based Schizophrenia Papers Published in High-Impact Psychiatric Journals Report on Race and Ethnicity?: An 20-Year Update of Lewine and Caudle (1999) (2020). Journal of Mental Health, DOI 10.1080/09638237.2020.1837356.

  • Racial and ethnic disparities have been clearly documented in schizophrenia studies, but it is unclear how much research attention they receive among US-based studies published in high-impact journals. This project updates Lewine and Caudle (1999) and Chakraborty and Steinhauer (2010), which quantified how frequently schizophrenia studies included information on race and ethnicity in their analyses.

As a follow-up to the above project, the Author Race project seeks to examine the demographic composition of authors publishing articles on psychosis in high-impact journals. We believe the lack of schizophrenia-related research reporting on race and ethnicity may be in part explained by a lack of diversity amongst schizophrenia researchers; thus, this project seeks to examine the race, gender, and ethnicity of these researchers.