Nation's Leading Research Agency Fails Basic Mission | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Posted on December 6, 1999

Arlington, VA - The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has failed in its primary mission to support research on schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness, and other severe mental illnesses, charges a new report issued today by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the NAMI Research Institute/Stanley Foundation Research Programs.

According to the report, A Mission Forgotten: The Failure of the National Institute of Mental Health To Do Sufficient Research on Severe Mental Illnesses, NIMH supports research on a wide range of behavioral problems on "everything from language processing, reading problems, and geometrical reasoning to romantic relationships, infant sleep problems, the parentage of eastern bluebirds, the behavioral endocrinology of prairie voles, and social change in Czechoslovakia".

Furthermore, at least 15 percent of NIMH funding supports research on diseases such as AIDS and Alzheimer's that are the primary responsibility of other federal research institutes. In fact, in 1997 NIMH spent more on AIDS research ($60.2 million) than on schizophrenia research ($57.1 million). Clinical and treatment-related research on severe mental illnesses is especially neglected by NIMH: clinical research on manic-depressive illness receives just 1.1 percent of the NIMH research budget, panic disorder 0.9 percent, and obsessive-compulsive disorder 0.5 percent.

"NIMH is an institute that has lost its way in the research woods," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, the senior author of the report and executive director of the Stanley Foundation Research Programs. "The results show a shocking failure by NIMH to carry out its primary responsibility on diseases which cost the nation at least $74 billion each year. There is a direct relationship between NIMH's failure to do its job and the fact that individuals with severe mental illnesses are filling our homeless shelters and jails."

NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn, a co-author of the report, said, "There are more than five million Americans with severe mental illnesses who are waiting for better treatments. If NIMH does not support the necessary research, these individuals and their families are going to have a long wait indeed." Flynn praised recent efforts of current NIMH Director Dr. Steven Hyman to improve his agency's research portfolio, but cautioned, "We've seen only the beginning of what needs to be done to get NIMH back to its original mission."

The report summarizes a study of 2,277 NIMH-funded research grants for Fiscal Year 1997. Each grant abstract was independently rated by two members of a five-person professional review committee.


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