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
Dixs 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. Kennedys 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
Passage of the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers
Construction Act, an outgrowth of President Kennedys message, began a new era in
Federal support for mental health services.
1965--During the mid-1960s 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-1960s. 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
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. NIMHs 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 Governments only civilian psychiatric hospital, to NIMH.
1968--NIMH became a component of PHSs Health Services and Mental Health
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
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
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.
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 Presidents 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
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 ADAMHAs 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 brains 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
institutes 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
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 NAMHCs reports to Congress, National Plan for Schizophrenia
Research, was published.
1989--Congress passed a resolution and President Bush signed a proclamation
establishing the 1990s 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.