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NIMH Council Discusses Mental Health Priorities, Progress on Strategic Plan and Portfolio Composition 

June 9, 2022

Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD, welcomed the full panel of members to the 267th Meeting of the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC), held virtually on June 7th (Agenda). The NAMHC advises the NIMH on all policies and activities relating to the conduct and support of mental health research, research training and institute programs. FABBS regularly submits recommendations for council membership and encourages our scientists to consider serving in this extremely important role.  

Dr. Gordon presented his Director’s report, starting with an update on the White House’s unity agenda and strategy for addressing the national mental health crisis.  As presented at the State of the Union address in March, supporting mental health is a key priority for this administration that plans to make significant investments leading to:  

  • Expanded Coverage and Reduced Costs for Mental Health Services  
  • More Mental Health Providers 
  • A Better National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

On May 31, the administration released a fact sheet to address the national mental health crisis. Dr. Gordon expressed support for the establishment of a federal research action plan on mental health that includes funding for innovative treatment models and research in social media. He also highlighted the importance of the leadership of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to coordinate the effort and engage other federal agencies including the Department of Education.    

Turning to Congressional updates, Dr. Gordon updated Council members on the enacted budget for NIMH in fiscal year (FY) 2022 which provides $2.2 billion, a healthy increase over FY 2021. Congress also provided $20 million for research on the impact of COVID on mental health.   

The Director’s report included updates on the strategic plan as well as the composition of the NIMH grant portfolio. The institute went through an inclusive process to renew the NIMH Strategic Plan in 2020. Since the release of the plan, NIMH provides annual updates in the form of the 2021 progress report as well as specific scientific advances in each of the four goals

In reviewing the composition of the NIMH portfolio, Dr. Gordon noted a gradual increase in the investment in fundamental and basic science and shifting in the percent of investment in Therapeutics Development and Services and Disease-related Basic science. He shared that NIMH had worked to increase the accuracy of some research that had been labeled disease specific to more accurately classify some proposals as basic research. Dr. Gordon expressed appreciation for the questions about the basic research noting that often, the only voices weighing in are for increasing the investment in clinical research. 

Dr. Gordon also touched upon ARPA-H, assuring Council members that NIMH has been consulted in the discussions about the new agency and feels encouraged that it will pay some attention to mental health. Early in the process, NIMH was invited to submit ideas pointing to opportunities in biomarkers, learning health care systems, and genes to biology. FABBS has been very engaged with NIH and OSTP conversations regarding ARPA-H and is working to create opportunities for and engage the behavioral and brain science communities. 

Invited guest Katie A. McLaughlin, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, presented her work on “Stress-related Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents during the COVID-10 Pandemic: Mechanisms of Risk and Resilience.”  Looking at adolescence during the pandemic, she spoke about the exposure to stressors such as threat, danger, potential harm and unpredictability, social isolation. Her research examined the correlation between self-reported perception of threat and internalized mental health finding. 

Dr. McLaughlin joined a delegation of FABBS members, led by past president Jeremy Wolfe, in August 2019 for a meeting with Representative Clark to discuss our interest in NIMH and NICHD.  

Concepts of particular interest to FABBS members included: Understanding Social Media Use and Youth Mental Health; Developing Quality Measures to Advance Mental Health Care Outcomes and Access; and Suicide Prevention Across the Life Span in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. 

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