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NIH 1998 Almanac/The Organization/NIMH/      

National Institute of Mental Health : Important Events in NIMH History


1773--Three years before the Declaration of Independence was written, the first hospital for the mentally ill in the U.S. opened in Williamsburg, Va.

1775--In the late 18th century, mental illness in this country finally received scientific attention, from Dr. Benjamin Rush. As part of his program to improve the care given mental patients admitted to the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, Dr. Rush struck at the hearsay, superstition, and ignorance surrounding mental illness. He introduced occupational therapy, amusements, and exercise for patients and saw to it that they had decent, clean quarters. For his accomplishments, Dr. Rush is known as the "Father of American Psychiatry."

1840--In 1840 there were only eight asylums for the insane in the U.S. Dorothea Dix’s crusading led to establishment or enlargement of 32 mental hospitals, and transfer of the mentally ill from poorhouses and jails.

The first attempt to measure the extent of mental illness and mental retardation in the United states occurred with the U.S. Census of 1840. The census included the category "insane and idiotic."

1855--The Government Hospital for the Insane opened in Washington, D.C. It was renamed St. Elizabeths Hospital in 1916.

1900--Early in the 20th century, the "mental hygiene" movement came into being, due largely to the efforts of Clifford Beers in New England. A former mental patient, Beers shocked readers with a graphic account of hospital conditions depicted in his famous book, The Mind that Found Itself.

The inspection of immigrants at Ellis Island included screening to detect the mentally disturbed and retarded among the thousands of men, women, and children arriving daily. The high incidence of mental disorders found among the immigrants prompted public recognition of mental illness as a national health problem.

1929--The establishment of two Federal Narcotics farms was authorized within the PHS. The Lexington Hospital opened in 1935 and the Fort Worth Hospital in 1938. Both facilities participated in pioneering research on drug abuse, carried forward by the Addiction Research Center at Lexington, which later moved to Baltimore.

1930--The PHS established the Narcotics Division, later named Division of Mental Hygiene. The division brought together for the first time the threads of the mental health movement--from research and treatment programs to combat drug addiction to the study of the causes, prevalence, and means of preventing and treating nervous and mental disease. Dr. Walter Treadway headed the division. He was succeeded by Dr. Lawrence Kolb who retained the post until his retirement in 1944 when Dr. Robert H. Felix took over.

1940--The concept of a "National Psychiatric Institute" was born, but World War II intervened and the plan was not introduced before the Congress. The war demonstrated the tremendous toll taken by mental illness. More men received medical discharges from the Armed Forces for neuropsychiatric disorders than for any other reason more than 1 million Americans were rejected for military service for that reason.

1944--It was soon evident that there were severe shortages of professional mental health personnel and that understanding of the causes, treatment, and prevention of mental illness lagged far behind other fields of medical science and public health. Dr. William Menninger, chief of Army neuropsychiatry and an outstanding leader of the profession, called for Federal action.

The new director of the PHS Division of Mental Hygiene, Dr. Robert H. Felix, presented a proposal for a national mental health program to the Surgeon General of the U.S. This proposal was to form the basis of the National Mental Health Act of 1946.

1946--On July 3 President Truman signed the National Mental Health Act which called for the establishment of a National Institute of Mental Health.

The first meeting of the National Advisory Mental Health Council was held on August 15. Since no Federal funds were available, the Greentree Foundation awarded a grant of $15,000 to finance the meeting.

1947--On July 1 the first mental health research grant (MH-1) was awarded to Dr. Winthrop N. Kellogg of Indiana University by the Division of Mental Hygiene. It was titled "Basic Nature of the Learning Process."

The National Reporting Program on Patients in Mental Institutions was transferred from the U.S. Census Bureau to the Division of Mental Hygiene.

1948--Congress did not appropriate funds to implement the National Mental Health Act until fiscal year 1948.

1949--On April 15 the NIMH was established with the abolishment of the Division of Mental Hygiene. NIMH was one of the first four NIH institutes.

1955--The Mental Health Study Act of 1955 called for "an objective, thorough, nationwide analysis and reevaluation of the human and economic problems of mental health." The act furnished the basis for the historic study conducted by the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health. The commission's final report, Action for Mental Health, provided the background for President John F. Kennedy’s special message to Congress on mental health.

The number of patients in mental hospitals began to decline reflecting the introduction of psychopharmacology in the treatment of mental illness.

1956--Congress appropriated $12 million for research in the clinical and basic aspects of psychopharmacology and the Psychopharmacology Service Center was established.

The Health Amendments Act authorized the support of community services for the mentally ill, such as halfway houses, daycare, and aftercare under Title V.

1961--Action for Mental Health, the final report of the Joint Commission on Mental Health and Illness, was transmitted to Congress. A 10-volume series, it assessed mental health conditions and resources throughout the U.S. "to arrive at a national program that would approach adequacy in meeting the individual needs of the mentally ill people of America."

1963--President Kennedy submitted a special message to Congress on mental health issues.

Passage of the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, an outgrowth of President Kennedy’s message, began a new era in Federal support for mental health services.

1965--During the mid-1960’s NIMH launched an extensive attack on special mental health problems. Established were centers for child and family mental health, crime and delinquency, minority group mental health problems, schizophrenia, urban problems, and later, rape, aging, and technical assistance to victims of natural disasters.

The mental health centers staffing amendments authorized grants to help pay the salaries of professional and technical personnel in Community Mental Health Centers.

The Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children was established by Congress to recommend national action for child mental health.

1966--Despite the large population directly affected, alcohol abuse and alcoholism did not receive full recognition as a major public health problem until the mid-1960’s. The National Center for Prevention and Control of Alcoholism was established as part of NIMH. Four years later it became a division on its way to institute status.

A research program on drug abuse was inaugurated with the establishment of the Center for Studies of Narcotic and Drug Abuse within NIMH. Division status followed in 1968, with institute status in 1972.

1967--NIMH was separated from NIH and raised to bureau status in PHS by a reorganization that became effective January 1. NIMH’s Division of Clinical, Behavioral and Biological Research, within the Mental Health Intramural Research Program, comprising activities conducted in the Clinical Center and other NIH facilities, continued at NIH under an agreement for joint administration between NIH and NIMH.

On August 13 DHEW Secretary John W. Gardner transferred St. Elizabeths Hospital, the Federal Government’s only civilian psychiatric hospital, to NIMH.

1968--NIMH became a component of PHS’s Health Services and Mental Health Administration (HSMHA).

1969--Crisis in Child Mental Health, the report of the Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children, was made public.

1970--Dr. Julius Axelrod, an NIMH researcher, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research into the chemistry of nerve transmission for "discoveries concerning the humoral transmitters in the nerve terminals and the mechanisms for their storage, release and inactivation." He found an enzyme that terminates the action of the nerve transmitter, noradrenaline.

FDA approved the use of lithium as an anti-manic based upon NIMH research. This led to a savings of approximately $40 billion over the next couple of decades and a sharp drop of inpatient days and suicides.

The Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act established the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism within NIMH.

1971--A group of 17 national health and mental health organizations sponsored a 2-day conference honoring the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the National Mental Health Act.

1972--The Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act established a National Institute on Drug Abuse within NIMH.

1973--NIMH temporarily rejoined NIH on July 1 with the abolishment of HSMHA.

On September 25 the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA)--composed of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and NIMH--was established administratively by the DHEW secretary as the successor organization to HSMHA.

A task force consisting of over 300 consultants, was established to review and analyze the 25-year history of federally sponsored research programs in mental health. Their report, Research in the Service of Mental Health, was issued in 1975.

1974--ADAMHA was officially established on May 4 when President Nixon signed P.L. 93-282.

1975--The community mental health centers program was given added impetus with the passage of the CMHC amendments of 1975.

1977--President Carter established the President’s Commission on Mental Health on February 17 by Executive Order No. 11973. The commission was to review the mental health needs of the Nation and to make recommendations to the President as to how the Nation might best meet these needs.

1978--Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, an NIMH grantee, was awarded the Albert Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research for his pioneering work in identifying the opiate receptors, and the demonstration of their relation to the enkephalins, natural chemicals released by the brain which have the effect of relieving pain and influencing emotional behavior.

The Report to the President from the President's Commission on Mental Health was submitted.

1980--The Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) study, a unique and massive research effort in which more than 20,000 persons were interviewed, began. The field interviews and first wave analysis were completed in 1985. Data from the ECA provide an accurate picture of rates of mental and addictive disorders and services usage.

The Mental Health Systems Act, which was based on the Report to the President from the President's Commission on Mental Health and was designed to provide improved services for the mentally ill, was passed.

1981--President Reagan signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. This act repealed the Mental Health Systems Act and consolidated ADAMHA’s treatment and rehabilitation service programs into a single block grant that enabled each State to administer its allocated funds. With the repeal of the community mental health legislation and the establishment of block grants the Federal role in services to the mentally ill became one of providing technical assistance to increase the capacity of State and local providers of mental health services.

Dr. Louis Sokoloff, an NIMH researcher, was given the Albert Lasker Award in Clinical Medical Research for developing a new method of measuring brain function that contributes to basic understanding and diagnosis of brain diseases. His technique involving measuring the brain’s utilization of glucose led to the development of the PET scanner, which produces color images showing glucose utilization in the living, functional brain.

Dr. Roger W. Sperry, an NIMH grantee, shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Drs. David Hubel and Torsten N. Wiesel. It was awarded for his discoveries concerning functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres.

1983--Dr. Eric R. Kandel, an NIMH grantee, was awarded the Albert Lasker Award in Medical Research for application of cell biology techniques to the study of behavior, revealing the mechanisms underlying learning and memory.

1985--A major reorganization to align the extramural structure to emphasize the institute’s primary mission of research was accomplished. This provided for an increased focus on understanding the biological and behavioral underpinnings of mental illness and mental health and for improving the treatment/prevention of mental and emotional disorders.

1986--A 2-day scientific seminar, which was held to honor the 40th anniversary of the National Mental Health Act, took place in Washington, D.C. It was sponsored by the organizing committee for the 40th anniversary commemoration and the MacArthur Foundation.

1987--On October 1 administrative control of St. Elizabeths Hospital was transferred from the NIMH to the District of Columbia. NIMH retained research facilities on the grounds of the hospital.

1988--Approaching the 21st Century: Opportunities for NIMH Neuroscience Research, a report to Congress from the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC), was issued.

The second of NAMHC’s reports to Congress, National Plan for Schizophrenia Research, was published.

1989--Congress passed a resolution and President Bush signed a proclamation establishing the 1990’s as the "Decade of the Brain." NIMH continued its strong emphasis on its research into the basic functions of the brain and their relationship to mental illness.

The NIMH Neuroscience Center and the NIMH Neuropsychiatric Research Hospital, located on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital, were dedicated on September 25.

1990--The third NAMHC report to Congress, National Plan for Research on Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders, was submitted.

The first of three hearings on Mental Health in America, sponsored by NAMHC, was held on April 12. It explored mental illness and mental health services in rural America.

A hearing on child and adolescent mental disorders, the second of the Mental Health in America series, was held on October 9.

1991--The fourth NAMHC report to Congress, Caring for People with Severe Mental Disorders: A National Plan of Research to Improve Services, was presented.

The last of the Mental Health in America hearings was held on September 5. It addressed issues concerning severe mental illness and homelessness.

The report, Mental Health in America: A Series of Public Hearings, was submitted to Congress by NAMHC in December.

1992--On October 1, ADAMHA was abolished and the research components of NIAAA, NIDA, NIMH rejoined NIH. The services components of the institutes became part of a new PHS agency, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The establishment of the Center for Mental Health Services within SAMHSA provided opportunities for improved advocacy for and linkage of research and services.

The return to NIH and the loss of services functions to SAMHSA brought about a realignment of NIMH headquarters. New offices were created for research on AIDS, Prevention, Special Populations, and Rural Mental Health.


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