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As almost every parent learns, the end of adolescence does not magically produce a functioning adult. The bridge years from 18 to 25 are marked by societal, psychological and biological influences that can define obstacles and highlight opportunities for a lifetime. The Institute for Social and Psychiatric Initiatives— Research, Education and Services (InSPIRES) under the direction of Dr. Dolores Malaspina, is committed to studying this bridge between dependence and independence that we call the Odyssey Years.
Advances in neuroscience have documented that the brain remains uniquely malleable between the ages of 18 and 25, when so many of the pathologies of adult mental illness first surface. Development, disease and trauma change the brain but so do life experiences and interventions. For individuals at risk, the Odyssey Years are a time when recoveries are made, but also a time when lives are lost to the high cost of chronic mental illness.
The significance of the Odyssey Years was not as evident a generation ago, but cultural changes, nutrition and other environmental factors have shifted the biological programs of brain development. Compared to previous generations, today’s young adults take longer to assume their full adult roles.
Our goal is to understand the biological, psychological and social roots of this shift in young adulthood and to develop interventions that foster healthy, resilient adults.
The Odyssey Years Project will be a four-year longitudinal study of young adults that bridges neurobiology and clinical disciplines. It will track the mental and physical health, life experiences and biological measures of brain maturation in 200 subjects between the ages of 18 and 25 years. We will annually assess mood, motivation, emotion, personality, perception, memory, learning, reasoning, decision-making, brain imaging, psychophysiology and other person-specific measures.
Both healthy young people and those with mental or physical vulnerabilities will be evaluated over time to track brain maturation and role functioning. The study will include people of different economic backgrounds as well as people who have been adopted or raised in foster care. Individuals will be offered treatment or they may choose to be followed without any interventions.
Our services will be aimed at enhancing recovery and resilience in young adults by providing mental health services to prevent and mitigate serious mental illness and help juvenile offenders avoid recidivism. The Odyssey Years Project will offer these young adults a chance to achieve independence and lead healthy, productive lives.