NIMH Council Spring Meeting

May 20, 2021

On May 18, the National Advisory Mental Health Council convened for its 263rd meeting to advise the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on the strategic planning and grants-making processes, and other policy issues related to NIMH research. Members of the council come from distinguished positions in academia, health facilities, and service organizations. See more information about the council here.

Watch a recording of the meeting here. Refer to the meeting agenda here.

NIMH Director’s Report

Dr. Josh Gordon presented the Director’s Report which included the budget picture for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 and appropriations process for FY 22, legislation and congressional interactions, an analysis of the research portfolio balance, and updates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and NIH as a whole.

Budget / Appropriations

On April 9, the White House Office of Management and Budget released an outline of President Biden’s request for FY 2022 discretionary funding, which includes a $51 billion request for the NIH, an increase of $9 billion from FY 21. Most of the investment ($6.5 billion) is dedicated to launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). The NIH anticipates additional details when the President’s full budget is shared, expected May 28.

The last six years in a row showed significant increases in the NIMH budget. The budget is over $2 billion this year, including supplemental appropriations through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Relevant Legislation and Congressional Interactions

The American Rescue Plan provided $1.9 trillion as supplemental relief package to combat the impact of the pandemic, including provisions allocated to NIMH sister agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to expand mental health services around country. The NIMH is encouraged that Congress is taking steps to strengthen public mental health systems. FABBS previously advocated for funding to be included towards federal science agencies to support U.S. researchers impacted by the pandemic.

NIMH staff and leadership have met with legislators to discuss key mental health issues:

  • In March, NIMH leadership met with Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) to provide research updates on Black youth suicide and mental health disparities. They also met with Rep. David Trone (D-MD) and the Congressional Mental Health Caucus to discuss research priorities within the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and of suicide prevention efforts.
  • In April, NIMH briefed members of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee on the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health. They also shared findings on pandemic-related PTSD among health care workers to the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.
  • Earlier this May, Director Gordon welcomed a Congressional delegation, led by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), ranking member in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, responsible for overseeing the NIH budget. Other members of the subcommittee from both parties toured the NIH research center and heard presentations on the mental health impacts of the pandemic from Dr. Gordon (representing the extramural research) and Clinical Director of the NIMH Intramural Research Program, Dr. Joyce Chung (representing the intramural side).

Trans-NIH/NIMH Collaborations

Soon after Xavier Becerra was confirmed as the new HHS Secretary on March 18, he testified about the NIH budget request and highlighted several trans-NIH foci, including health impacts of the pandemic and of climate change. NIMH is currently participating in a NIH-wide workgroup to plan biomedical responses to issues of climate change. NIMH is also collaborating with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) on translational issues, such as novel potential antidepressants.

Other trans-NIH initiatives continue to progress, with new advancements in the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, a boost in the budget for the BRAIN Initiative, and revamping recruitment, hiring, retention, and leadership strategies after the open listening sessions and committees recommendations within the UNITE Initiative to end structural racism at NIH.

NIMH News to Know

NIMH announced the winner for the inaugural James Jackson Memorial Award, named in honor of the late renowned social psychologist whose research on race, ethnicity, racism, health, and mental health made significant impacts in the fields. The award winner, Dr. Enrique W. Neblett Jr. (University of Michigan Public Health), will present his research and celebrate the award at a virtual webinar in July, during Minority Mental Health Month.

Friends of NIMH

Director Gordon brought attention to the recently formed “Friends of NIMH,” wherein advocacy and professional organizations banded together to educate policy makers and stakeholders about the science of mental health and to advocate in support for the NIMH budget and for policies that positively impact the research workforce. Members of the group represent scientists, health care providers, individuals, families, and communities who are dedicated in supporting progress in the fields of mental health research. FABBS and APA are founding members, see the website and the list of members here.