Vote No on Neugebauer

Once again, Members of Congress are charging that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is funding inappropriate research. An amendment is expected during the House debate on the Labor, HHS bill that would seek to curtail funding for grants involving basic research on mental health issues funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). We wanted to provide some information to you and ask that you continue to support the scientific review process and vote no on any amendment that seeks to rescind funding from peer-reviewed research. As both of these grants have been completed, no money will be available for other research as a result of this amendment.

Possible Neugebauer Amendments

Neugebauer: Prohibits the National Institute of Mental Health at the NIH from further funding a grant studying "what makes a meaningful day?" for college students. The amendment would not cut any funding to NIMH; it would simply prevent the Institute from funding this grant and free up any funds that would otherwise go to this grant for other mental health grants.

Neugebauer: Prohibits the National Institute of Mental Health at the NIH from further funding a grant studying dorm room wall decorations and college students' webpages. The amendment would not cut any funding to NIMH; it would simply prevent the Institute from funding this grant and free up any funds that would otherwise go to this grant for other mental health grants.

NIMH Grants Under Scrutiny

Grant Title: Goals, Identity, and Meaning in Life
Grant Number: 5R01MH054142-08
University: University of Missouri, Columbia

Research Relevance: This study examines the mental and physical health benefits of focusing on positive life goals as compared to traumatic events through journal writing.

  • The proposed study has relevance to the prevention of mental disorders as writing about stressful events or traumatic experiences may improve mental health and well-being and may prevent the onset of depression.

  • Giving patients self-help tools to alleviate depression could minimize the development of other chronic health conditions that flow from depression, ultimately minimizing health care costs, and strains on the health care delivery system.

  • Understanding the use of goal setting as a treatment for those with mental or emotional disorders, combined with the importance of highlighting positive memories in cognitive behavioral therapy, is important to furthering treatment development.

  • Research has shown that individuals who write about their traumatic life experiences experience fewer physical illnesses over time and is beneficial to mental, as well as, physical health. This study found that writing about one's life goals provided the same or better health benefits than writing about a trauma by enhancing psychological health and physical well-being without the short term emotional distress that comes with remembering a traumatic event.

  • The scientific field has recognized the importance of this NIH-funded work. In 2001, the American Psychological Association honored this scientist with the Templeton Positive Psychology Prize.

Grant Title: Expressions of Identity in Virtual and Physical Spaces
Grant Number: 1R03MH064527-01A1
University: University of Texas, Austin

Research Relevance: Assessing the physical and virtual environments that individuals choose for themselves may convey whether that individual is suffering from depression or other psychological disorders. Information could assist in developing effective suicide prevention programs.

  • The environments that children and young adults surround themselves with can tell us a lot about their mental state and if they are suffering from or are more vulnerable to emotional disturbance or mental disorders.

  • Self-expression is a core feature of identity and self-concept, and is often a marker of healthy functioning as well as clinical disorders (e.g., depression; dissociative and other personality disorders).

  • Self-expression is also a marker of social group affiliation, the lack of which is involved in mood disturbance, and which also is critical in the ability to mobilize social supports (which in turn are key to effective coping).

  • NIMH has concluded its support for this one-year basic research project.

Is This Research Outside of the NIH or NIMH Mission?

NIH is the premier biomedical and behavioral research institution in the world. Its mission is to support science to improve the health and well-being of all humanity. At a time when genetic control over diseases is tantalizingly close but not yet possible, knowledge of the behavioral influences on health is a crucial component in the nation's battles against the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Appropriately, NIH supports a large and robust portfolio of research on all aspects of human development and disease.

Contrary to the assertion that NIMH's mission should focus solely on severe mental illnesses, and away from promoting mental health, the Public Health Service Act (Report 102-546) provides a clear picture of congressional intent regarding NIMH's mission: "The research program established under this subpart shall include support for biomedical and behavioral neuroscience and shall be designed to further the treatment and prevention of mental illness, the promotion of mental health, and the study of psychological, social, and legal factors that influence behavior…"

Basic social science research in health promotion is critical for the development of effective prevention strategies, diagnostic tools, and treatments for mental and emotional disorders. Protective factors and other sources of human resilience-such as courage, hope, optimism, and the capacity for joy-may well serve as buffers against depression and other mental disorders.

Why Do We Need This Research?

Two of the studies currently under question are examining college-aged populations and how identity and self-expression relate to their mental state and personality. Examining the young adult population is critical for a number of reasons:

  • Studies have shown that the prevalence of depression and severe psychological problems among college students is growing: 61% reported feeling hopeless, 45% felt so depressed they could barely function, and 9% felt suicidal;

  • Studies have shown that psychological distress peaks during the freshman year of college, and roughly one third of college freshmen experience feelings of depression and sensations of being overwhelmed;

  • The average age of diagnosis for bipolar disorder is 21 years and 27 years for unipolar depression;

  • 5% of college students drop out of college due to psychiatric disorders; furthermore, emotional adjustment has been shown to be as or more important than academic adjustment in predicting school retention

How Does NIH Decide to Fund These Grants?

The NIH uses a rigorous peer review process to determine which grant applications to fund. Thousands of scientists each year submit applications to the NIH requesting funding for their scientific proposals. Applications are evaluated initially by the NIH's Center for Scientific Review and peer review groups composed of scientific experts from around the U.S. and the world. These groups (also called "study sections") assess and rate the scientific and technical merit of the proposed research or training projects. Projects reviewed in a particular session are scored and ranked in relation to each other. The applications are then assigned to one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. A second level of peer review is conducted by the NIH National Advisory Councils of the respective funding Institutes or Centers, which are composed of both scientists from the research community and public representatives. These councils ensure that the NIH receives advice from a cross-section of the U.S. population in its deliberation and decision-making.

This system ensures that research conducted and supported with taxpayer dollars is scientifically meritorious and serves to improve the lives of all people equally. Approximately 70 percent of meritorious, scientifically valid proposals do not receive funding through this process. The grants that receive funding, however, are the best in their fields.

If you have any questions, please contact CPR's Co-Chairs, Angela Sharpe of the Consortium of Social Science Associations at (202) 842-3525 or Karen Studwell of the American Psychological Association at (202) 336-5585.