The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has issued a new strategic plan for research. Informed by the successes and challenges of recent years, the new plan updates the strategic objectives of its 2008 predecessor with the aim of balancing the need for long-term investments in basic research with urgent mental health needs.
“A strategic plan can identify the most important problems and identify areas of traction,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., NIMH director. “This update of our strategic plan is a commitment to take a fresh look at our horizons so that we can refine priorities and energize our path of discovery.”
According to recent estimates, mental illnesses account for 21.3% of all years lived with disability in the U.S. An estimated 9.6 million American adults suffer from a serious mental illness in which the ability to function in daily life is significantly impaired. Furthermore, over 41,000 Americans died in 2013 from suicide, more than twice the annual mortality from homicide or AIDS. Changing these statistics depends not only on continued effort in areas in which there have been dramatic advances, but in less fully explored areas, such as the mechanisms by which environmental influences alter brain and behavior, as well as in research to improve and broaden access to health care services.
To go forward, the plan has revised the original four high-level strategic objectives as follows:
These four objectives form a broad roadmap for the institute’s research priorities over the next five years, beginning with the fundamental science of the brain and behavior, and ending with public health impact. The overall funding strategy is to pursue long-term objectives by supporting investigator-initiated proposals based on scientific opportunities, while using targeted funding announcements to address near-term goals.
A diverse community of stakeholders helped review and provide comments on the draft update of the plan. These include the National Advisory Mental Health Council and the NIMH Alliance for Research Progress, a gathering of the major foundations and mental health research advocacy groups. A revised draft plan was published for public comment in November; the institute received nearly 600 comments from individuals, groups and organizations, as well as from the National Advisory Mental Health Council.