NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) falls under the umbrella of the government's medical research agency, the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIMH is the branch of the NIH that focuses on the brain, behavior, and mental health.
The creation of the NIMH in the 1940s ushered in a new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Psychologists began to realize that mentally ill patients would benefit more from evaluation and treatment than from institutionalization, and asylums were gradually replaced by well-equipped, well-staffed mental health facilities. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the National Mental Health Act, which redirected the funding and oversight of mental health programs from the state to the federal level. The act also called for the establishment of the NIMH to lead research efforts relating to the brain and psychiatric disorders. The agency was formally established in 1949.
The NIMH became the foremost behavioral science and mental-illness research center in the country and provided funding and training for state mental health facilities. During the 1960s, the institute expanded its offerings by establishing centers for the study of child mental health, crime, urban mental health issues, and suicide. Alcohol and substance abuse were added as separate areas of study in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Thanks to rapid expansion during the 1960s, the NIMH was separated from the NIH and added to the newly established Health Services and Mental Health Administration, but it rejoined the NIH in 1973.
Scientists at the NIMH use a combination of neuroscience, behavioral science, molecular genetics, and brain imaging to delve into the underlying physiological and genetic mechanisms that trigger mental illness. Their aim is to discover ways to prevent and treat mental illnesses through a combination of pharmacological and behavioral therapies. The agency not only conducts its own laboratory research and clinical trials, but also funds research by universities, private companies, and individual scientists. The NIMH also provides educational materials to patients, medical professionals, local governments, and organizations around the country.
In 2003, the NIMH will conduct a study, following over 200,000 people exposed to the ash and dust resulting from the destruction of the World Trade center by terrorists in 2001. In one of the largest studies ever conducted, the NIMH will observe patterns of illness and recovery among the residents and workers of lower Manhattan. The NIMH also maintains divisions that focus on preparing and coping with disasters and emergencies.
█ FURTHER READING:
Mintzer, Richard. The National Institutes of Health. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2002.
Grob, Gerald N. "Creation of the National Institute of Mental Health." Public Health Reports no. 4 (July-August 1996):378–381.
National Institute of Mental Health. < http://www.nimh.nih.gov/ > (December 7, 2002).