Ellen Frank Receives IOM Award for Approaches to Treating Mood Disorders

Issue Date: 
October 24, 2011
Ellen FrankEllen Frank

Ellen Frank, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychology in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, received the 2011 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health from the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The prize, including a medal and a $20,000 award, recognizes Frank’s decades-long efforts to enhance treatment and the understanding of mood disorders.

She was one of two researchers nationwide selected for the prize, presented Oct. 17 during IOM’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Our understanding of depression and other mood disorders and our ability to help people overcome these debilitating and potentially fatal illnesses owe much to the work of Ellen Frank and fellow award recipient William Bunney,” said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. “Their research and clinical studies have not only directly contributed remarkable new knowledge to the field, but also spurred an abundance of findings by other researchers inspired by their work.”

Frank’s conceptualization and testing of novel psychotherapeutic approaches to mood disorders have led to far-reaching improvements in knowledge about and treatment of depression and have changed the nature of clinical practice in the United States and throughout the developed world. Her work has demonstrated the psychosocial components of mood disorders and their effects on circadian rhythms and other biological processes that contribute to such disorders. She developed interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which blends interpersonal psychotherapy with behavioral intervention and is effective in teaching patients how to order their lives and stabilize their social routines to avoid new episodes of depression or mania. In response to other professionals’ interest in receiving training in IPSRT, Frank established a training institute to disseminate the intervention both nationally and abroad.

In addition, Frank’s clinical trial, investigating ways to keep patients from experiencing recurrent depression, challenged the conventional practice of lowering patients’ drug dosage after depression has subsided. Now, maintaining full-dose pharmacotherapy for patients with recurrent depression is the standard of practice throughout the developed world.

Since 1992, the IOM has presented the Sarnat Prize to individuals, groups, or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding achievement in improving mental health. The prize recognizes—without regard for professional discipline or nationality—achievements in basic science, clinical application, and public policy that lead to progress in the understanding, etiology, prevention, treatment, or cure of mental disorders or to the promotion of mental health.

The award is supported by an endowment created by Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat of Los Angeles. Rhoda Sarnat is a licensed clinical social worker, and Bernard Sarnat is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and researcher. The Sarnats’ concern about the destructive effects of mental illness inspired them to establish the award.  Nominations for potential recipients are solicited every year from IOM members, mental health professionals, and others. Final decisions regarding the awards are made by a selection committee. Additional information on the Sarnat Prize can be found at www.iom.edu/sarnat.