Deciphering schizophrenia and depression, which afflict some 14.5 million Americans, is the quest of thousands of researchers nationwide. Estimates are that one in four beds in hospitals are filled by mentally ill patients and that 40 percent of the homeless in the U.S. may suffer from schizophrenia.

Last week, a Yale University scientist and a handful of researchers from other institutions were honored for their efforts toward better understanding of mental illness by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) -- a newly formed organization that is dedicated to fighting mental illness.

Dr. Benjamin Stephenson Bunney, a Yale University School of Medicine neuropharmacologist, became the first recipient of the Lieber Prize -- a $50,000 award that will be given annually by NARSAD. Bunney, who is also vice chairman of Yale's department of psychiatry, was honored for his work on dopamine -- a substance in the brain implicated in schizophrenia.

Other areas of research being studied by NARSAD Fellowship Award Winners are: Charting the symptoms and the biochemical differences between psychotic and non-psychotic people suffering from depression, work under way by psychiatrist D.P. Devanand at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York. In addition, Devanand is evaluating effects of electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. Studying chemical interactions between the brain substances known as neurotensin and dopamine that are implicated in mental illness. Psychologist Scott T. Cain is conducting this work at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. Monitoring the brain waves of people with schizophrenia. Evidence suggests that a type of brain wave known as P300 originates from a part of the brain impaired in schizophrenic patients. Harvard University Medical School's Steven F. Faux received a fellowship for this work. Using molecular genetics to search for a genetic defect among the relatives of schizophrenics. Washington University School of Medicine psychologist George P. Vogler is drawing blood to examine the DNA of schizophrenic patients' family members. In other work, he is looking at cumulative risk factors for schizophrenia, which might combine with an inborn predisposition to cause the mental illness.