We all face adversity in our lives. Most of us cope well despite that adversity, while some struggle to move past it.

Resilience is the ability — something we're born with and something we can learn — to “bounce back” from adversity, to adapt, learn and even grow from experience so that we can be better prepared when the next bad event comes.

As in other areas of the country, Ohio has seen a rise in mental health problems, substance use disorders, suicide and other deaths related to drug overdose over the past decade. At any given time, 1 out of every 5 Ohioans have a mental health challenge that negatively affects their day-to-day functioning.

Every community and nearly every family in Ohio is affected by mental health problems

During his 2023 State of the State address, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a challenge to change our collective approach to mental health and substance use disorders. The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is now leading a series of pivotal first-of-its-kind studies to uncover the root causes and risk factors of mental illness including addiction. Catalyzed by an initial round of funding of $20 million from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, these studies will seek to examine the biological, psychological and social factors that put Ohioans at risk and those that can protect Ohioans and help everyone live their lives to their fullest potential. Ultimately, these studies will inform and guide new strategies for prevention, recovery and resilience.

Defining risk, developing resilience

There has never been a research effort of this breadth, depth and scale on mental health, addiction and resilience. Known as the State of Ohio Adversity and Resilience (SOAR), this pioneering research will focus on families across generations with the intention of following their course over time. SOAR takes on the challenge to solve the mystery and unravel the complexity of mental illness and addiction.

The State of Ohio Adversity and Resilience (SOAR) Study Logo To do so, SOAR will:
  • Identify the risks that may lead to — or the factors that protect a person from — persistent distress, mental illness, substance use disorders, overdose or suicide. This may include social, environmental, psychological and biological factors and/or trauma.
  • Understand how exposure to these risks impacts behavior, biology and brain function.
  • Explore patterns of intergenerational transmission of illness.
  • Discover ways to promote resilience that allow an individual to respond, adapt and even grow in the face of adversity, stress and trauma. 

SOAR press conference

Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio State President Walter “Ted” Carter Jr., Wexner Medical Center CEO John J. Warner and university leaders launch the $20 million SOAR Study at a press conference on January 19, 2024.

Using science to find a solution

To provide Ohio State and our research partners an expansive database of facts, the SOAR Study will begin with two interrelated projects conducted in parallel:

  • The SOAR Wellness Discovery Survey will collect information on the social and psychological makeup, real-world experiences and state of mental health of approximately 15,000 Ohioans.
  • The SOAR Brain Health Study will collect biological/brain function, psychological and social environment data from approximately 3,600 members of 1,200 Ohio families.

This comprehensive approach addressing both breadth and depth allows for an extensive analysis of individual, family and community factors, and studying multiple generations may lead to new strategies that support personal and group resilience and allow families to “break the chain” of mental health and substance use disorders.

Now’s the time

Ohio State and collaborators at other academic institutions across Ohio are determined to shift the paradigm away from siloed research to improve outcomes for those suffering from mental health and substance use disorders.

Their motivation is fueled by sobering statistics like these:

  • Since 2010, opioid overdose deaths have increased more than 300% in Ohio, and more than 5,000 Ohioans died by intentional overdose in 2022.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 5,700 Ohioans die from excessive alcohol use per year. The leading alcohol-related deaths are poisonings, heart disease, liver disease, suicide, motor vehicle crashes and homicide.
  • Approximately 17% of Ohioans smoke tobacco, and more than 20,000 Ohio adults die each year from smoking.   
  • According to the Ohio Department of Health, five Ohioans die by suicide every day. In 2021 it was the 12th leading cause of death overall in the state and the second-leading cause of death for Ohioans ages 10-34. In addition, suicide has increased nearly 15% in the past decade.
  • Persistent stress — a growing risk in today’s society — has been shown to be one of the main factors leading to problems of substance use, unintentional drug overdoes and suicide.

Read more about SOAR on Ohio State Health & Discovery

Ready to learn more?

SOAR plans to include all Ohioans to help build one of the most diverse and representative health databases of mental health research. SOAR seeks to collect information from not only Ohioans who are struggling but also from Ohioans who are doing well in response to past and recent adversity, stress and trauma. SOAR involves people from all backgrounds. Researchers and clinicians will use the information collected to learn how our biology, behavior, lifestyle and environment affect our mental health. This knowledge will help them find ways to intervene earlier so that we can prevent the development and worsening of illness, and that Ohioans can live their lives to the fullest potential.

For more information, please call 614-688-9537 or email SOARstudies@osumc.edu.

Visit SOAR Study to learn more 

Helping Ohio lead the nation

Ohio isn't alone in our mental health and substance use challenges. We know “what” the problem is. We’ll be the first to take this broad, deep and integrated approach to better answer “who, why, how and when” (who gets sick, why do they get sick, how do they get sick, when do they get sick), within a state, community and family context, to help prevent and intervene early.

The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center is the lead research site for the SOAR Study.

The SOAR Study team

Kinh Luan Phan, MD

K. Luan Phan, MD
Principal Investigator, SOAR Study

Chair and Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
Chief of Psychiatry Services
Jeffrey Schottenstein Endowed Chair of Psychiatry and Resilience

Dr. Phan is joined by the SOAR scientific leadership team in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, which includes:

Anthony King, PhD
The Anne K. "Nancy" Jeffrey Endowed Professor for Mental Health Equity and Resilience

Nina Kraguljac, MD
Dr. Lee E. Shackelford Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Health
Vice Chair for Strategy and Innovation

Scott Langenecker, PhD
Professor and Vice Chair for Research

Grace Maynard-Wentzel, CCRP, CHRC
SOAR Study, Deputy Director

We’re bringing together the best minds to solve the mind’s toughest problems. To support statewide data collection and participation, several other academic institutions and medical centers will join Ohio State in this research:

  • Bowling Green State University
  • Case Western/University Hospital-Cleveland
  • Central State University
  • Kent State University
  • Nationwide Children’s Hospital
  • NE Ohio Medical University
  • Ohio University
  • University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Children’s Hospital
  • University of Toledo
  • Wright State University