NIMH Director Briefs Mental Health Liaison Group

By Pat Kobor

Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), met in late March with the Mental Health Liaison Group, a coalition that advocates for sufficient funds for NIMH and other NIH institutes as well as other federal agencies with mental health missions (e.g., the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).  APA is a longtime member of this coalition, which also includes representatives from Mental Health America, American Psychiatric Association, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and other organizations.

Dr. Insel put the research of NIMH in context by reminding the coalition that mental disorders are the number one source of medical disability for people 15 – 44 years of age in the U.S. and Canada, accounting for nearly 40% of all medical disability in this age range. Mental disorders are a major source of not only morbidity but mortality: in 2005, there were more than 32,000 suicides in the U.S., 90% of which were believed to be associated with mental illness.  That is twice the number of homicides and greater than the number of deaths from AIDS.

Dr. Insel discussed several of NIMH’s priority initiatives: the Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (STARRS), autism research, and Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE).  STARRS, a partnership between NIMH and the U.S. Army, was conceived to help identify modifiable risk and protective factors related to mental health and suicide. In recognition of NIMH’s leading role in autism research, Dr. Insel chairs the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee of the Department of Health and Human Services. A third initiative, RAISE involves a comparison of treatment approaches to schizophrenia in “real world” settings, and is focused on uptake of these treatments by health insurance payors. 

Dr. Insel reminded the group that he shares his thoughts on research trends and articles in his blog on the NIMH web site.