NIMH: The largest research organisation for mental illness in the world

research organisation for mental illness
© Aleksandar Mijatovic |

The work of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the U.S. is charted here, which we find out is the largest research organisation for mental illness in the world

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is one of the 27 institutes that make up of the U.S. government’s federal health National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is the primary department of the U.S. Government conducting biomedical and health-related research. The NIMH is the largest research organisation for mental illness in the world, supplying the largest amount of funding to researchers in mental health.

Their goal is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illness using these four strategic objectives:

  • Define the mechanisms of complex behaviours.
  • Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene.
  • Strive for prevention and cures.
  • Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research.

The NIMH’s current director is Joshua A. Gordon who has been a driving force in mental health research since his student days at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). His primary role is to oversee across all research conducted by the NIMH. His work has been awarded by multiple prestigious bodies including the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation and the NARSAD (National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia & Depression) young investigator award.

Schizophrenia research

Established in 1949, the research conducted by the NIMH has often been ground-breaking – there have been three Nobel prize-winning pieces of research conducted by the institute. Scientists supported by the institute have pioneered research across all facets of mental health: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was first researched there and various treatments to assist those with schizophrenia have been devised by researchers supported by the institute.

Their research into schizophrenia, a chronic mental disorder that affects how people think and feel, has been particularly vital. Initially set into motion by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s, the institute has gone on to make numerous advances in the field by conducting countless clinical trials and providing essential and easy-to-access information to patients.

This information is also made accessible via numerous outreach programs which “seek to increase the public’s access to science-based mental health information through partnerships with national and state organizations”. The outreach programs are designed to increase understanding of various mental disorders, which, in turn, helps to minimise negative perceptions and attitudes towards mental illness.

Mental health legislation

The NIMH also provides legislative analysis and liaises with members of the House of Congress regarding policy development around mental health. The NIMH has a duty to fulfil this role as funding for the institute is provided through “an annual appropriations bill that must be approved by both the House and the Senate and signed by the President”.

An important example of this was in 2013, in the wake of several mass shootings in the U.S., then-President Barack Obama put together a bill which aimed to reduce gun violence which included several recommendations based on mental health research conducted by the NIMH. Furthermore, it also included measures aimed at increasing access to mental health care, including training additional mental health professionals to serve children and young adults. This started a national conversation across the US regarding mental health.

Project funding

Recently, the NIMH has awarded over $4 million to support multiple research projects that will develop screening tools that detect and validate signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the first year of life. This would lead to children at risk being connected with intervention services as soon as possible, increasing the likelihood of them receiving treatment in a critical period of their lives. This funding is set to increase to “approximately 19 million dollars” over the course of these research projects and is set to change how a disease affects 1 in 59 children in the United States.

It is this dedication to award-winning cutting-edge research, alongside outreach programs in all 55 states of the U.S. that have made the NIMH the largest research organisation for mental health research in the world. It is clear to see that since 1949 the institute has been behind some of the most crucial medical research in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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