Olivia Okereke, MD, SM

2012 DICP Faculty Fellowship Alumni

OLIVIA OKEREKE, MD, SM, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital

Mentor: Arthur Barsky, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Department Chair: David Silbersweig, MD, Stanley Cobb Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Head of the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Project Title: High-risk Factors for Late-life Depression in Women

Project Description:

This proposal employs the Institute of Medicine (IOM) theoretical framework of prevention to evaluate relations of “high-risk” factors to incidence of late-life depression in women. Depression is a common and disabling condition in older people, and post-treatment residual dysfunction occurs frequently. Thus, prevention is critical, and understanding depression’s underlying risk “architecture” will advance the field.  Recent evidence suggests that key health and psychosocial factors and sub-threshold affective symptoms may have the greatest impact on incidence – perhaps, explaining as many of 50% of all cases. Older women have a disproportionate burden of depression; thus, there are tremendous gains to be made by identifying “high-risk” factors. Furthermore, little work has addressed factors that influence the burden of depression among older minorities. Therefore, we will leverage data from the resource-rich Nurses’ Health Study – with over 40,000 women aged ≥65 years and at risk for depression during follow-up – to address the major contributors to risk. First, we apply the IOM “selective” prevention framework, by examining whether medical comorbidity, physical/functional limitation and/or disability, and low social index/social network increase depression risk; additionally, we will address differences in these factors between black and white Nurses. Second, we employ the IOM “indicated” prevention model, by examining relations of sub-threshold depressive and anxiety symptoms on clinical depression risk. This award provides critical support to Dr. Olivia Okereke as she aims to achieve her programmatic goals in late-life mental health prevention research.


Dr. Okereke is a Board-certified geriatric psychiatrist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. She is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale University School of Medicine, and completed a general psychiatry residency at the MGH/ McLean program and a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry at McLean Hospital.  She also completed a Master of Science in Epidemiology degree at HSPH as an NIH Kirschstein-National Research Service Award recipient. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, she has appointments as an Associate Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry and Associate Epidemiologist in the Department of Medicine.  She is a staff neuropsychiatrist in the BWH Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and a clinical affiliate psychiatrist in the MGH Gerontology Research Unit and Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Dr. Okereke’s research goals are to employ epidemiologic research methods to identify modifiable risk factors involved in mental aging and to translate and apply knowledge gained into effective strategies for large-scale prevention of major adverse mental aging outcomes – specifically, late-life depression and cognitive decline.