Psych/Neuro Epidemiology

The psychiatric and neurological epidemiology unit is an intellectual community of faculty and students in the Department of Epidemiology who share an interest in understanding the causes, origins, progression, and consequences of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Our research and training program is committed to a population-based perspective that takes a "cells to society" approach to investigate how environmental factors "get under the skin" and shape psychiatric and neurological disorders over the lifecourse. We aspire to reduce the global public health burden of psychiatric and neurological disorders through making our findings accessible to the public and in using our findings to develop effective population-wide and clinical interventions.

Students in this unit benefit from working with faculty who are leading scholars in neurodevelopmental science and developmental psychopathology; stress and adversity, trauma, and stigma; genetic epidemiology; substance use and abuse; systems science; global mental health; mental health services research; and the etiology, treatment, and prevention of neurological disorders. Students also benefit from our long collaborative history with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the Department of Psychiatry, the Neurological Institute, the Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center, and the School of Social Work and have the opportunity to work with faculty across all Department units.

The unit holds a monthly seminar and teaches several courses open to the Department.

Selected projects

Developmental psychopathology and child psychiatric epidemiology

A number of unit projects focus on deviations in development that lead to mental disorders, violence, suicide, and other high risk behaviors in youth. This work has a strong global mental health focus and includes research on population based, birth cohort, and high risk samples. The child psychiatric epidemiology research group, in particular, has been actively engaged in international randomized controlled trials focused on youth suicide and school dropout.

Gene-environment interplay and psychiatric disorders

Cross-cutting collaborations among several faculty in the Department focus on how environmental exposures across the life course and at multiple levels modify the role of genetic factors in the onset and course of psychiatric and substance use disorders. One major focus of this work is on identifying the biologic mechanisms through which the urban environment produces mental disorders.

Military deployment and psychiatric disorder

Several unit projects focus on the factors across the lifecourse that intersect with military experience to influence the mental health of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This work builds on long-standing Department expertise in work with military populations starting with the Vietnam War.

The Impact of Psychiatric Disorders on Physical Health

An emerging area of collaboration with faculty in the Chronic Disease unit is focused on the impact of adversity and mental disorders on physical health across the life span. This collaboration is particularly focused on identifying the biological mechanisms via which mental disorders increase risk for chronic physical health problems such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

The Northern Manhattan Study of Atherosclerosis and Stroke

The Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS) investigates risk factors, occurrence, and outcome of stroke in Northern Manhattan’s multiethnic population. Created in 1990, NOMAS is the first study of its kind to focus on stroke risk factors in whites, blacks, and Hispanics living in the same community. The initiative is also committed to developing better stroke prevention programs to improve the health of the surrounding community.

Genetics of Alzheimer's Disease in Caribbean Hispanics

This project investigates genetic factors in the development of Alzheimer’s disease among the Caribbean Hispanic population in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and New York City, a population at a threefold higher risk for developing the disease than Caucasians.

Affiliated Centers and Programs

Global Mental Health Program

Gertrude H. Sergievsky Center

Training Opportunities

Psychiatric Epidemiology Training Program

Neuroepidemiology Training Program

Substance Abuse Epidemiology Training Program

Unit Faculty

Unit leader: ro6 [at] (Ruth Ottman)

For more information about the psych/neuro epidemiology unit contact psych-neuro.epidemiology [at]

Psychiatric-Neurological Epidemiology Early Investigator Award

The Columbia University Psychiatric-Neurological Epidemiology Early Investigator Award recognizes excellence in the areas of psychiatric and/or neurological epidemiology by an individual at the Instructor or Assistant Professor level or the equivalent.

Nominees may be at any institution. Nominations may be made by investigators at any institution. Nominations are due February 1, 2015. The awardee will be notified on March 1, 2015.

Faculty members in the Psychiatric-Neurological Epidemiology unit will comprise a selection committee.

Nominations should include two documents: a letter addressed to Dr. Karestan Koenen, Unit Leader, summarizing the major achievements of the nominee (maximum 1 page long), and the nominee's curriculum vitae. Please ensure that current contact information, including email addresses, for both the nominator and the nominee is contained in the letter to Dr. Koenen. Send information as a Word document or pdf attachment via email to Dr. Koenen at kck5 [at]

The awardee will be honored at a special colloquium sponsored by the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The award includes travel expenses, a $400 honorarium, and a plaque. The awardee will be asked to give a talk as part of the Psychiatric-Neurological Epidemiology Unit seminar series.

Past Winners

2012-2013 Winners

Katherine Keyes
Sandra Barral

2013-2014 Winners

Kate McLaughlin
Maria Glymour

2014-2015 Winners

Christiane Reitz
Olivia Okereke