National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Mission

The mission of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.

For the Institute to continue fulfilling this vital public health mission, it must foster innovative thinking and ensure that a full array of novel scientific perspectives are used to further discovery in the evolving science of brain, behavior, and experience. In this way, breakthroughs in science can become breakthroughs for all people with mental illnesses.

In support of this mission, NIMH will generate research and promote research training to fulfill the following 4 objectives:

  • Promote discovery in the brain and behavioral sciences to fuel research on the causes of mental disorders
  • Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene
  • Develop new and better interventions that incorporate the diverse needs and circumstances of people with mental illnesses
  • Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research

To reach these goals, NIMH divisions and programs are designed to emphasize translational research spanning bench, to bedside, to practice.

Important Events in NIMH History

1946—On July 3 President Harry 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. Because no federal funds had yet been appropriated for the new institute, the Greentree Foundation financed the meeting.

1947—On July 1 the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Division of Mental Hygiene awarded the first mental health research grant (MH-1) entitled "Basic Nature of the Learning Process" to Dr. Winthrop N. Kellogg of Indiana University.

1949—On April 15 NIMH was formally established; it was 1 of the first 4 NIH institutes.

1955—The Mental Health Study Act of 1955 (Public Law 84-182) called for "an objective, thorough, nationwide analysis and reevaluation of the human and economic problems of mental health." The resulting Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health issued a report, Action for Mental Health, that was researched and published under the sponsorship of 36 organizations making up the Commission.

1961Action for Mental Health, a 10-volume series, assessed mental health conditions and resources throughout the United States "to arrive at a national program that would approach adequacy in meeting the individual needs of the mentally ill people of America." Transmitted to Congress on December 31, 1960, the report commanded the attention of President John F. Kennedy, who established a cabinet-level interagency committee to examine the recommendations and determine an appropriate Federal response.

1963—President Kennedy submitted a special message to Congress—the first Presidential message to Congress on mental health issues. Energized by the President's focus, Congress quickly passed the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act (P.L. 88-164), beginning a new era in Federal support for mental health services. NIMH assumed responsibility for monitoring the Nation's community mental health centers (CMHC) programs.

1965—During the mid-1960s, NIMH launched an extensive attack on special mental health problems. Part of this was a response to President Johnson's pledge to apply scientific research to social problems. The Institute established centers for research on schizophrenia, child and family mental health, and suicide, as well as crime and delinquency, minority group mental health problems, urban problems, and later, rape, aging, and technical assistance to victims of natural disasters. A provision in the Social Security Amendments of 1965 (P.L. 89-97) provided funds and a framework for a new Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children to recommend national action for child mental health.

Also in this year, staffing amendments to the CMHC act authorized grants to help pay the salaries of professional and technical personnel in federally funded community mental health centers.

Alcohol abuse and alcoholism did not receive full recognition as a major public health problem until the mid-1960s, when the National Center for Prevention and Control of Alcoholism was established as part of NIMH; a research program on drug abuse was inaugurated within NIMH with the establishment of the Center for Studies of Narcotic and Drug Abuse.

1967—NIMH separated from NIH and was given Bureau status within PHS by reorganization effective January 1. However, NIMH's intramural research program, which conducted studies in the NIH Clinical Center and other NIH facilities, remained at NIH under an agreement for joint administration between NIH and NIMH.

On August 13 U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) Secretary John W. Gardner transferred St. Elizabeth's 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).

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 stopped the action of the nerve transmitter noradrenaline—a critical target of many antidepressant drugs—in the synapse.

In a major development for people with manic-depressive illness (bipolar disorder), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of lithium as a treatment for mania, based on NIMH research. The treatment led to sharp drops in inpatient days and suicides among people with this serious mental illness and to immense reductions in the economic costs associated with bipolar disorder.

Also during this year, the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act (P.L. 91-616) established the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism within NIMH.

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

1973—NIMH went through a series of organizational moves. The Institute temporarily rejoined NIH on July 1 with the abolishment of HSMHA. Then, the HEW secretary administratively established the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA)—composed of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and NIMH—as the successor organization to HSMHA.

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 Jimmy Carter established the President's Commission on Mental Health on February 17 by Executive Order No. 11973. The commission was charged to review the mental health needs of the Nation, and to make recommendations to the President as to how best to meet these needs. First Lady Rosalyn Carter served as the Honorary Chair of the commission.

1978—The 4-volume Report to the President from the President's Commission on Mental Health was submitted.

1980—The Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) study, an unprecedented research effort that entailed interviews with a nationally representative sample of 20,000 Americans, was launched. The field interviews and first-wave analyses were completed in 1985. Data from the ECA provided an accurate picture of rates of mental and addictive disorders and services usage.

The Mental Health Systems Act—based on recommendations of the President's Commission on Mental Health and designed to provide improved services for persons with mental disorders—was passed. NIMH also participated in development of the National Plan for the Chronically Mentally Ill, a sweeping effort to improve services and fine-tune various Federal entitlement programs for those with severe, persistent mental disorders.

1981—President Ronald 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 intramural NIMH researcher, received the Albert Lasker Award in Clinical Medical Research for developing a new method of measuring brain function that contributed to basic understanding and diagnosis of brain diseases. His technique, which measures the brain's use of glucose, made possible exciting new applications to positron emission tomography, or PET scanning, the first imaging technology that permitted scientists to "observe" and obtain visual images of the living, functioning brain.

Dr. Roger Sperry, a longtime NIMH research grantee, received the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for discoveries regarding the functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres, or the "left" and "right" brain.

1983—NIMH-funded investigator Fernando Nottebohm discovered the formation of new neurons in brains of adult song-birds; this evidence of "neurogenesis" opened an exciting and clinically promising new line of research in brain science. It was 15 years, however, before investigators reported finding evidence for continued neurogenesis in the brains of adult human subjects.

1987—Administrative control of St. Elizabeth's Hospital is transferred from the NIMH to the District of Columbia. NIMH retained research facilities on the grounds of the hospital.

1989—Congress passed a resolution, subsequently signed as a proclamation by President George Bush, designating the 1990s as the "Decade of the Brain."

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

1992—Congress passed the ADAMHA Reorganization Act (P.L. 102-321), abolishing ADAMHA. The research components of NIAAA, NIDA, and NIMH rejoined NIH, while the services components of each institute became part of a new PHS agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The return to NIH and the loss of services functions to SAMHSA necessitated a realignment of the NIMH extramural program administrative organization. New offices are created for research on Prevention, Special Populations, Rural Mental Health, and AIDS.

1993—NIMH established the Silvio O. Conte Centers program to provide a unifying research framework for collaborations to pursue newly formed hypotheses of brain-behavior relationships in mental illness through innovative research designs and state-of-the-art technologies.

NIMH established the Human Brain Project to develop—through cutting-edge imaging, computer, and network technologies—a comprehensive neuroscience database accessible via an international computer network.

1994—Intramural Research Program Revitalization—The House Appropriations Committee mandated that the director of NIH conduct a review of the role, size, and cost of all NIH intramural research programs. NIMH and the National Advisory Mental Health Council initiated a major study of the NIMH Intramural Research Program. The planning committee recommended continued investment in the Intramural Research Program and recommended specific administrative changes; many of these were implemented upon release of the committee's final report. Other changes—for example, the establishment of a major new program on Mood and Anxiety Disorders—have been introduced in the years since.

1996—NIMH, with the National Advisory Mental Health Council, initiated systematic reviews of several areas of its research portfolio, including the genetics of mental disorders; epidemiology and services for child and adolescent populations; prevention research; clinical treatment; and services research. At the request of the NIMH director, the Council established programmatic groups in each of these areas. NIMH continued to implement recommendations issued by these work groups.

NIMH increased the priority placed on research on childhood mental disorders and clinical neuroscience and initiated efforts to expand research in these areas.

NIMH expanded its efforts to safeguard and improve the protections of human subjects who participate in clinical mental health research.

1996-1998—NIMH initiated planning for integration of the Institute's peer review system for neuroscience, behavioral and social science, and AIDS research applications into the overall NIH peer review system.

1997—NIMH realigned its extramural organizational structure to capitalize on new technologies and approaches to both basic and clinical science, as well as immense changes to health care delivery systems, while retaining the Institute's focus on mental illness. The new extramural organization resulted in 3 research divisions: Basic and Clinical Neuroscience Research; Services and Intervention Research; and Mental Disorders, Behavioral Research, and AIDS.

1997-1999—NIMH refocused career development resources on early careers and added new mechanisms for clinical research.

1999—The NIMH Neuroscience Center/Neuropsychiatric Research Hospital was relocated from St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC to the NIH Campus in Bethesda, MD, in response to the recommendations of the 1996 review of the NIMH Intramural Research Program by the IRP Planning Committee.

The first White House Conference on Mental Health, held June 7 in Washington, DC, brought together national leaders, mental health scientific and clinical personnel, patients, and consumers to discuss needs and opportunities. NIMH developed materials and helped organize the conference.

NIMH convened its fourth rural mental health research conference in August. "Mental Health at the Frontier: Alaska," was held in Anchorage, with visits by researchers and program representatives to several towns and villages. The aim was to solicit assistance in the development of a research agenda focusing on mental health issues for people who live in rural or frontier areas, with a focus on the needs of Alaska Natives.

NIMH hosted "Dialogue: Texas," which was the first in a series of mental health forums to solicit input from the public on the direction of future research at NIMH and to highlight current research. Held in San Antonio, the forum provided Texas consumers, researchers, care providers, and policymakers the opportunity to discuss mental health issues of greatest concern. The meeting focused on Latino and Hispanic populations.

U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher released The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Prevent Suicide, in July, and the first Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, in December. NIMH, along with other Federal agencies, collaborated in the preparation of both of these landmark reports.

In the late 1990s, NIMH began to strengthen its efforts to include the public in its priority setting and strategic planning processes, instituting a variety of approaches to ensure increased public participation.

The NIMH expanded and revitalized its public education and prevention information dissemination programs, including information on suicide, eating disorders, and panic disorder, in addition to the ongoing Institute educational program, Depression: Awareness, Recognition, and Treatment (D/ART).

NIMH also launched an initiative to educate people about anxiety disorders, to decrease stigma and trivialization of these disorders, and to encourage people to seek treatment promptly.

NIMH included members of the public on its scientific review committees reviewing grant applications in the clinical and services research areas.

2000—NIMH created the Council Work Group on Training for Diversity in February to ensure adequate opportunities for minorities to pursue research careers, and to track the success of related Institute programs.

NIMH launched a 5-year communications initiative in March called the Constituency Outreach and Education Program, enlisting nationwide partnerships with state organizations to disseminate science-based mental health information to the public and health professionals, and increase access to effective treatments.

In March, NIMH assisted First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in conducting a meeting on the Safe Use of Medication to Treat Young Children.

NIMH co-hosted 2 town meetings in Chicago on the mental health needs of minority youth and related research. The first meeting, held in April, focused on behavioral, emotional, and cognitive disorders; the impact of violence; the criminalization of youth with treatment needs; service system issues; barriers to treatment; and barriers to research. The July 2000 meeting addressed the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV, and the role of the family and society in stemming the spread of HIV, as well as the increase in violence. Members of the general public, parents, teachers, school officials, guidance counselors, and professionals in the health, family assistance, social services, and juvenile justice fields attended the meetings.

NIMH organized the 14th International Conference on Challenges for the 21st Century: Mental Health Services Research, held in Washington, DC in July, to address how to meet mental health service needs nationwide most effectively,reduce health disparities, and provide equitable treatments in an era of managed care.

Dr. Eric Kandel and Dr. Paul Greengard, each of whom has received NIMH support for more than 3 decades, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sweden's Dr. Arvid Carlsson. Dr. Kandel received the prize for his elucidating research on the functional modification of synapses in the brain. Initially using the sea slug as an experimental model but later working with mice, he established that the formation of memories is a consequence of short- and long-term changes in the biochemistry of nerve cells. Further, he and his colleagues showed that these changes occur at the level of synapses. Dr. Greengard was recognized for his discovery that dopamine and several other transmitters can alter the functional state of neuronal proteins. These findings made it clear that signaling between neurons could alter their function not only in the short term but also in the long term. Also, he learned, such changes could be reversed by subsequent environmental signals.

Dr. Nancy Andreasen, a psychiatrist and long-time NIMH grantee, receives the National Medal of Science for her groundbreaking work in schizophrenia and for joining behavioral science with neuroscience and neuroimaging. The Presidential Award is one of the nation's highest awards in science.

2001—In Pittsburgh, NIMH convened more than 150 clinical and basic scientists with expertise relevant to the study of mood disorders to help develop a Research Strategic Plan for Mood Disorders. A public forum held in conjunction with the meeting focused on the frequent co-occurrence of depression with general medical illnesses.

NIMH launched several long-term, large-scale, multi-site, community-based clinical studies to determine the effectiveness of treatment for bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive illness); depression in adolescents; antipsychotic medications in the treatment of schizophrenia, and management of psychotic symptoms and behavioral problems associated with Alzheimer's disease; and subsequent treatment alternatives to relieve depression.

The Surgeon General released a Report on Children's Mental Health indicating that the nation is facing a public crisis in the mental health of children and adolescents. The National Action Agenda outlines goals and strategies to improve services for children and adolescents with mental and emotional disorders. NIMH, along with other Federal agencies, collaborated in the preparation of this report.

2002—NIMH published a national conference report entitled "Mental Health and Mass Violence: Evidence-Based Early Psychological Intervention for Victims/Survivors of Mass Violence: A Workshop to Reach Consensus on Best Practices." While most people recover from a traumatic event in a resilient fashion, the report indicates that early psychological intervention guided by qualified mental health caregivers can reduce the harmful psychological and emotional effects of exposure to mass violence in survivors. NIMH and the Department of Defense, along with other Federal agencies and the Red Cross, collaborated in the preparation of this report.

2003—Real Men. Real Depression campaign launched to raise awareness about depression in men and create an understanding of the signs, symptoms, and available treatments. The campaign was designed to inspire other men to seek help after hearing from real men talking about their experiences with depression, treatment, and recovery.

NIMH, in collaboration with the University of New Mexico, hosted a regional public outreach meeting, Dialogue Four Corners, in April that focused on the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. Over 350 stakeholders—including consumers and their families, health care providers, policy makers, advocates, and researchers—gathered to discuss the impact of mental illness on American Indian and Hispanic populations living in rural communities and to help NIMH shape its future research agenda on issues relevant to the region.

2004—The Treatment of Adolescent Depression Study (TADS), one of NIMH's 4 large-scale practical clinical trials, yielded important first phase results. The clinical trial of 439 adolescents with major depression found a combination of medication and psychotherapy to be the most effective treatment over the course of the 12-week study. The study compared cognitive-behavioral therapy with fluoxetine, currently the only antidepressant approved by the FDA for use in children and adolescents.

2005—Results from the first phase of the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness research program (CATIE), the second of NIMH’s 4 large-scale practical clinical trials, provided, for the first time, detailed information comparing the effectiveness and side effects of 5 medications—both new and older medications—that are currently used to treat people with schizophrenia. Overall, the medications were comparably effective but were associated with high rates of discontinuation due to intolerable side effects or failure to control symptoms adequately. Surprisingly, the older, less expensive medication used in the study generally performed as well as the newer medications. The NIMH-funded study included more than 1,400 people.

NIMH and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) collaborated to help launch the Schizophrenia Research Forum, an online resource—www.schizophreniaforum.org—that aims to advance research in schizophrenia and related diseases. NARSAD is one of the largest donor-supported organizations that funds research on the brain and behavioral disorders.

In the first few weeks after Hurricane Katrina, and later Hurricane Rita, staff from NIMH traveled to the southern Gulf Coast region to provide immediate mental health treatment and prevention services to storm survivors and emergency response staff serving affected communities. In total, NIMH sent 26 scientists, clinicians, nurses, and social workers. Staff provided care to city police and fire squads, allowing these men and women to continue to perform vital services to the city. Others provided treatment assessment and evaluation for children and adolescents who were evacuated from the Mississippi gulf area.

2006—NIMH launched the inaugural edition of Inside NIMH, a new electronic newsletter designed to be published three times each year following meetings of the National Advisory Mental Health Council. The e-newsletter provides the latest news on funding opportunities and policies at NIMH, as well as highlights of research breakthroughs, new tools for mental health research, and public education efforts.

At the open session of the September meeting of NIMH's National Advisory Mental Health Council, Dr. John March, principal investigator of NIMH's TADS program, provided the latest findings of the study, which suggested that even after 18 weeks, the combination of medication and psychotherapy continued to provide the fastest, most effective outcome. Psychotherapy alone could be a viable option for adolescents unable to take medication, but required 6 extra months to achieve the same improvement as treatments involving medication.

Results from the first phase of NIMH's CATIE study focused on Alzheimer's disease yielded evidence that commonly prescribed antipsychotic medications used to treat Alzheimer's patients with delusions, aggression, hallucinations, and other similar symptoms can benefit some patients, but they appear to be no more effective than a placebo when adverse side effects are considered. The study provided the first real-world test of antipsychotic medications prescribed for these patients.

Results from the NIMH-funded Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) research program, the nation's largest clinical trial for depression (and the third of NIMH's 4 practical clinical trials), reported a series of results over the course of the year. The program included 2,876 participants. Phase 1 results, which used flexible adjustment of dosages based on quick and easy-to-use clinician ratings of symptoms and patient self-ratings of side effects, helped clinicians to track "real world" patients who became symptom-free and to identify those who were resistant to the initial treatment over the course of 14 weeks. Phase 2 results showed that 1 in 3 depressed patients who previously did not achieve remission using an antidepressant became symptom-free with the help of an additional medication and 1 in 4 achieved remission after switching to a different antidepressant. Phases 3 and 4 together showed that patients with treatment-resistant depression had a modest chance of becoming symptom-free when they tried different treatment strategies after 2 or 3 failed treatments.

Dr. Aaron T. Beck—professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, the founder of cognitive therapy, and a long-time NIMH grantee—was named the recipient of the prestigious Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research.

2007—Building on previous research, several studies in the NIMH Intramural Research Program have shown that the drug ketamine relieves depression within hours and helped to clarify a possible mechanism behind this finding. While ketamine itself probably won't come into use as an antidepressant because of its side effects, the new results move scientists considerably closer to understanding how to develop faster-acting antidepressant medications. Current medications to treat depression can take weeks to have an effect.

Findings from another NIMH clinical study—The Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD)—revealed that people receiving medication treatment for bipolar disorder are more likely to get well faster and stay well if they also receive intensive psychotherapy.

A simulation study, conducted by Dr. Philip Wang of Harvard University (currently at NIMH) and colleagues, revealed that providing a minimal level of enhanced care for employees' depression would result in a cumulative savings to employers of $2,898 per 1,000 workers over 5 years. Savings from reduced absenteeism and employee turnover and other benefits of the intervention began to exceed the costs of the program by the second year, yielding a net savings of $4,633 per 1,000 workers.

2008—NIMH began implementation of a new Strategic Plan with 4 major objectives:

NIMH's Dr. Linda Brady, director of the Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science, received the first individual Roadmap Compass Award on October 24, 2008, for her leadership and coordination of the Molecular Libraries Working Group.

NIMH and the U.S. Army entered into a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to conduct research that will help the Army reduce the rate of suicides. The MOA allows for a $50 million, multi-year study on suicide and suicidal behavior among soldiers, across all phases of Army service. It will be the largest single study on the subject of suicide that NIMH has ever undertaken.

Twelve NIMH staff members received the 2008 Hubert H. Humphrey Award for Service to America for their work in addressing the mental health needs of returning veterans. In an effort to address pressing scientific and public health needs related to the ongoing wars, these staff developed a new research initiative seeking grants designed to describe and evaluate national, state and local programs that address the mental health needs of returning service members and their families.

2009—Using the unprecedented additional funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, NIMH supported an additional $196 million in research in fiscal year 2009. Included in this amount was $33 million for research on autism. Approximately 240 additional projects were supported.

Following up to the MOU that was signed in 2008 and with $50 million in funding from the U.S. Army, NIMH launched the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (Army STARRS). Army STARRS is the largest study of suicide and mental health among military personnel ever undertaken and will identify modifiable risk and protective factors related to mental health and suicide.

NIMH Legislative Chronology

1929—P.L. 70-672 established 2 Federal "narcotics farms" and authorized a Narcotics Division within PHS.

1930—P.L. 71-357 redesignated the PHS Narcotics Division to the Division of Mental Hygiene.

1939—P.L. 76-19 transferred PHS from the Treasury Department to the Federal Security Agency.

1946—P.L. 79-487, the National Mental Health Act, authorized the Surgeon General to improve the mental health of U.S. citizens through research into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

1949—NIMH was established April 15.

1953—Reorganization plan No. 1 assigned PHS to the newly created U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

1955—P.L. 84-182, the Mental Health Study Act, authorized NIMH to study and make recommendations on mental health and mental illness in the U.S. The act also authorized the creation of the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health.

1956—P.L. 84-830, the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act, provided for territorial treatment facilities for mentally ill individuals in Alaska.

1963—P.L. 88-164, the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, provided for grants for assistance in the construction of community mental health centers nationwide.

1965—P.L. 89-105, amendments to P.L. 88-164, provided for grants for the staffing of community mental health centers.

1966—P.L. 89-793, Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966, launched a national program for long-term treatment and rehabilitation of narcotic addicts.

1967—P.L. 90-31, Mental Health Amendments of 1967, separated NIMH from NIH and raised it to bureau status in PHS.

1968—NIMH became a component of the newly created Health Services and Mental Health Administration.

P.L. 90-574, The Alcoholic and Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Amendments of 1968, authorized funds for the construction and staffing of new facilities for the prevention of alcoholism and the treatment and rehabilitation of alcoholics.

1970—P.L. 92-211, Community Mental Health Centers Amendments of 1970, authorized construction and staffing of centers for 3 more years, with priority on poverty areas.

P.L. 91-513, Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, expanded the national drug abuse program by extending the services of federally funded community treatment centers to non-narcotic drug abusers as well as addicts.

P.L. 91-616, Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Act, authorized the establishment of a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism within NIMH.

1972—P.L. 92-255, Drug Abuse Office and Treatment Act of 1972, provided that a National Institute on Drug Abuse be established within NIMH.

1973—NIMH rejoined NIH.

NIMH later became a component of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA).

1974—P.L. 93-282, authorized the establishment of ADAMHA.

1978—P.L. 95-622, the Community Mental Health Centers Extension Act of 1978.

1979—P.L. 96-88, the Department of Education Organization Act, created the Department of Education and renamed HEW the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

1980—P.L. 96-398, the Mental Health Systems Act, reauthorized the community mental health centers program.

1981—P.L. 97-35, the Omnibus Reconciliation Act, repealed P.L. 96-398 and consolidated ADAMHA's treatment and rehabilitation programs into a single block grant that enabled each State to administer allocated funds.

1983—P.L. 98-24, Alcohol Abuse Amendments of 1983, consolidated the current authorization for ADAMHA and the institutes into a new title V of the PHS act.

1984—P.L. 98-509, Alcohol Abuse, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Amendments, authorized funding for block grants for fiscal years 1985 through 1987, as well as extending the authorizations for Federal activities in the areas of alcohol and drug abuse research, information dissemination, and development of new treatment methods.

1991—P.L. 99-550, PHS act, contained the requirement for State Comprehensive Mental Health Services Plan.

1992—P.L. 102-321, the ADAMHA Reorganization Act, abolished ADAMHA, created the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and transferred NIMH research activities to NIH.

2000—P.L. 106-310, The Children's Health Act of 2000, Title I Autism, instructed the Director of NIH to carry out this section through the Director of NIMH and in collaboration with other agencies that the Director determined appropriate. The Act expands, intensifies, and coordinates activities of the NIH with respect to research on autism, including the establishment of not less than 5 centers of excellence that conduct basic and clinical research into autism. The Act also mandated that the Secretary, DHHS establish an Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to coordinate autism research and other efforts within the Department. Authority to establish the IACC was delegated to the NIH. The NIMH was designated the NIH lead for this activity.

2006—P.L. 109-416, the Combating Autism Act of 2006, authorized expanded activities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) related research, surveillance, prevention, treatment, and education. Specifically, the Act authorizes research under NIH to address the entire scope of ASD; authorizes a review of regional centers of excellence for autism research and epidemiology; authorizes activities to increase public awareness, improve use of evidence-based interventions, and increase early screening for autism; and calls on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee to enhance information sharing.

2010—P.L. 111-148, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, contains a section encouraging NIMH to continue relevant research, as well as a “Sense of the Congress” authorizing the Director of NIMH to conduct a longitudinal study of the relative mental health consequences for women of resolving a pregnancy.

Biographical Sketch of Acting NIMH Director, Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D.

Bruce Cuthbert, Ph.D., is Acting Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the component of the National Institutes of Health charged with generating the knowledge needed to understand, treat, and prevent mental disorders. With a budget of over $1.4 billion, the NIMH leads the nation's research on disorders that affect an estimated 44 million Americans, including 1 in 5 children.

Dr. Cuthbert has held a number of leadership positions at NIMH, most recently the Acting Director, and prior to that, the Director of the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) unit. Dr. Cuthbert served as the Director of the Division of Adult Translational Research from 2009 to 2014 before devoting his efforts full time to RDoC. A former Extramural Program staff member at NIMH from 1998 to 2005, Dr. Cuthbert served as Chief of the Emotion Process Program, Acting Chief of the Biobehavioral Regulation Program, and Chief of the Adult Psychopathology and Prevention Research Branch. He left NIMH in 2005 to join the University of Minnesota as a professor of Clinical Psychology, returning to NIMH in 2009 to lead the coordination of RDoC.

Dr. Cuthbert received both his BA (with honors) and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, in Psychology and Clinical Psychology, respectively. In addition to NIMH and the University of Minnesota, he previously served for 11 years as an investigator in the U.S. Army Medical Services Corps and for 17 years on the faculty at the University of Florida; he also held guest professorships at the University of Giessen and the University of Tübingen in Germany. Dr. Cuthbert is active in the field, serving as associate editor for Biological Psychiatry and Current Opinion in Psychiatry, and publishing over 100 articles, book chapters or reviews, in addition to extensive participation in NIH study sections. His accomplishments and contributions were recognized by his colleagues, who elected him as President of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in 2004 and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science in 2009.

NIMH Directors

Name In Office from To
Robert H. Felix 1949 1964
Stanley F. Yolles 1964 1970
Bertram S. Brown 1970 1977
Herbert Pardes 1977 1984
Shervert H. Frazier 1984 1986
Lewis L. Judd 1988 1992
Frederick K. Goodwin 1992 1994
Rex William Cowdry (Acting) 1994 1996
Steven E. Hyman 1996 2001
Richard K. Nakamura (Acting) 2001 2002
Thomas R. Insel 2002 2015
Bruce Cuthbert (Acting) 2015 Present

NIMH Programs

Offices and Divisions

Office of the Director

Office on AIDS
Office of Autism Research Coordination
Office of Clinical Research
Office of Constituency Relations and Public Liaison
Office of Genomics Research Coordination
Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health
Office of Resource Management
Office of Rural Mental Health
Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications Office of Technology Development and Coordination

Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science

The Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science supports research programs in the areas of basic neuroscience, genetics, basic behavioral science, research training, resource development, technology development, drug discovery, and research dissemination. In cooperation with other components of the Institute and the research community, the division has the responsibility for ensuring that relevant basic science knowledge is generated and then harvested to create improved diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental and behavioral disorders.

Areas of High Priority:

  • Develop new and use existing physiological and computational models to understand the biological functions of genes, gene products, cells, and brain circuits in normal and abnormal mental function.
  • Elucidate how cognitive, affect, stress, and motivational processes interact and their role(s) in mental disorders through functional studies spanning levels of analysis (genomic, molecular, cellular, circuits, behavior) during development and throughout the lifespan.
  • Elucidate fundamental mechanisms (e.g., genetic, biological, behavioral, environmental) of complex social behavior.
  • Identify in diverse populations from the US and around the world genetic variants, epigenetic mechanisms, and gene-environment interactions that influence vulnerability to mental disorders, endophenotypes, and pharmacologic response profiles.
  • Identify biological markers (e.g., genetic, proteomic, imaging) in model systems and humans that could be further validated as methods for diagnosing and/or detecting risk/vulnerability, onset, progress, and/or severity of mental disorders.
  • Identify and validate new molecular targets and tools for drug discovery relevant to the treatment of mental disorders.

Behavioral Science and Integrative Neuroscience Research Branch
Genomics Research Branch
Molecular, Cellular, and Genomic Neuroscience Research Branch
Office of Research Training and Career Development
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer  Programs

Division of Translational Research

The Division of Translational Research directs, plans, and supports programs of research and research training that translate knowledge from basic science to discover the etiology, pathophysiology, and trajectory of mental disorders and develops effective interventions for children and adults. DTR supports integrative, multidisciplinary research on the following areas: the phenotypic characterization and risk factors for psychiatric disorders; neurobehavioral mechanisms of psychopathology; trajectories of risk and resilience based on the interactive influences of genetics, brain development, environment, and experience; and design and testing of innovative psychosocial, psychopharmacologic, and somatic treatment interventions.

Areas of High Priority:

  • Delineate specific neural circuits contributing to one or more major mental disorders or subtypes of mental disorders.
  • Develop, test, and validate biological markers (e.g., genetic, proteomic, imaging) for diagnosing or detecting risk/vulnerability, onset, progression, and/or severity of mental disorders to prevent disorders, serve as criteria to personalize treatment and evaluate treatment response.
  • Develop models to predict treatment response and vulnerability to side effects of psychotropic medications and approaches to prevent or ameliorate treatment-emergent side effects, e.g., delineate the mechanisms through which specific psychotropic medications produce adverse metabolic and cardiovascular events, and begin to develop models to predict which patients are at high risk for developing these complications.
  • Identify mechanisms (e.g., genetic, biological, behavioral, environmental) that confer vulnerability to psychiatric illnesses and develop early interventions (pharmacological and/or psychosocial) for reducing the severity and incidence of psychopathology.
  • Evaluate the safety and efficacy of novel mechanism pharmacological agents and/or behavioral interventions that target domains of psychopathology inadequately addressed by current therapies or prevention strategies.
  • Develop, test, and validate methods to assess domains of psychopathology for use in clinical trials in order to increase the efficiency of the mental illness treatment development critical path, emphasizing approaches based on partnerships with the FDA and industry.
  • Delineate neurobehavioral mechanisms responsible for the development of psychopathology, including critical and sensitive periods in brain development and the effects of sex, behavior, and experience on the brain.
  • Utilize behavioral phenotypes reflecting dimensional processes (e.g., attention, mood regulation) to maximize discovery of underlying neural systems and genes, and refine behavioral assessment tools so that they are comparable across age, species, and social experience (e.g., SES, culture).
  • Test integrative models incorporating biological, behavioral, and experiential factors in the development of psychopathology, and utilize longitudinal research to track trajectories of risk and protection based on the combined and interactive influences among these factors.
  • Based on expanded knowledge of neurobehavioral trajectories, identify early signs of risk and develop novel and targeted preventive and treatment interventions.
  • Assess the mechanisms of action of efficacious interventions in the brain.

Adult Psychopathology and Psychosocial Intervention Research Branch
Clinical Neuroscience Research Branch
Developmental Trajectories of Mental Disorders Branch
Geriatrics and Aging Processes Research Branch
Neurobehavioral Mechanisms of Mental Disorders Branch
Traumatic Stress Research Program
Research Training and Career Development (Adult Psychopathology)
Research Training and Career Development (Developmental Psychopathology)
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer  Program (Adult Psychopathology)
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer  Program (Child Psychopathology)

Division of AIDS Research

The Division of AIDS Research supports research to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS worldwide and to decrease the burden of living with HIV/AIDS. DAR-supported research encompasses a broad range of studies that includes basic and clinical neuroscience of HIV infection to understand and alleviate the consequences of HIV infection of the central nervous system (CNS), and basic and applied behavioral science to prevent new HIV infections and limit morbidity and mortality among those infected. DAR places a high priority on interdisciplinary research across multiple populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, over the lifespan.

The portfolio on the basic neuroscience of HIV infection includes research to: elucidate the mechanisms underlying HIV-induced neuropathogenesis; understand the motor and cognitive impairments that result from HIV infection of the CNS; develop novel treatments to prevent or mitigate the neurobehavioral complications of HIV infection; and, minimize the neurotoxicities induced by long-term use of antiretroviral therapy. Critical approaches to this effort require molecular, cellular, and genetic studies to delineate the pathophysiologic mechanisms that lead to disrupted neuronal function, and to identify potential targets for therapeutic intervention. In addition, eradication of the virus from HIV-infected individuals to achieve a cure or a functional cure is a high priority.

The behavioral science research agenda emphasizes developing and testing behavioral interventions that can be effectively integrated with biomedical approaches to significantly impact the epidemic. The behavioral science agenda targets prevention of both transmission and acquisition of HIV, adherence to intervention components to reduce the burden of disease, and studies that address the behavioral consequences of HIV/AIDS. A strong component of integrating behavioral and biomedical approaches is expanding collaboration with other NIH institutes and federal agencies to leverage resources and broaden the impact of this research.

Areas of High Priority:

  • Expand approaches to integrate behavioral science with effective biomedical strategies for HIV prevention.

  • Advance the development and testing of interventions delivered beyond the individual level, by incorporating appropriate context into intervention development and testing.
  • Increase intervention potency and long-term maintenance of effects, with an emphasis on targeting high-risk vulnerable populations.
  • Develop strategies to increase HIV-testing and improve linkage to care and timely treatment initiation.
  • Develop and test interventions to improve HIV treatment outcomes through optimal treatment adherence and sustained engagement in care.
  • Support implementation science and operations research to enhance dissemination strategies and public health impact of effective interventions.
  • Examine evolving pathophysiologic mechanisms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) in the setting of long-term antiretroviral therapy, and development of novel therapeutic approaches to mitigate CNS complications of HIV infection.
  • Support the use of state-of-the-art genetic approaches to identify and validate viral and host genetic factors that influence the pathophysiology of HAND.
  • Define and characterize HIV persistence in the CNS in the context of suppressive highly active antiretroviral therapy, and foster translational research to enable therapeutic eradication of HIV-1 from the brain.

HIV Treatment and Translational Science Branch
HIV Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program
Training, Fellowship, and Health Disparities Programs

Division of Services and Intervention Research

The Division of Services and Intervention Research supports two critical areas of research:

  • Intervention research to evaluate the effectiveness of pharmacologic, psychosocial (psychotherapeutic and behavioral), somatic, rehabilitative, and combination interventions on mental and behavior disorders, including acute and longer-term therapeutic effects on functioning across domains (such as school, family, peer functioning) for children, adolescents, and adults.
  • Mental health services research.

The interventions focus is broad and inclusive with respect to the heterogeneity of patients, the severity and chronicity of disorders, and the variety of community and institutional settings in which treatment is provided. It includes clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of known efficacious interventions, as well as studies evaluating modified or adapted forms of interventions for use with additional populations (such as women, ethnic, and racial groups), new settings (public sector, pediatric primary care, schools, other non-academic settings, communities at large), and people with co-occurring disorders. Other foci include: identifying subgroups who may be more likely to benefit from treatment, evaluating the combined or sequential use of interventions (such as to extend effect among refractory subgroups), determining the optimal length of intervention, establishing the utility of continuation or maintenance treatment (that is, for prevention of relapse or recurrence), and evaluating the long-term impact of efficacious interventions on symptoms and functioning.

Services research covers all mental health services research issues across the lifespan and disorders, including but not limited to:

  • Services organization, delivery (process and receipt of care), and related health economics at the individual, clinical, program, community and systems levels in specialty mental health, general health, and other delivery settings (such as the workplace).
  • Interventions to improve the quality and outcomes of care (including diagnostic, treatment, preventive, and rehabilitation services).
  • Enhanced capacity for conducting services research.
  • The clinical epidemiology of mental disorders across all clinical and service settings.
  • The dissemination and implementation of evidence-based interventions into service settings.

The Division also provides biostatistical analysis and clinical trials operations expertise for research studies; analyzes and evaluates national mental health needs and community research partnership opportunities; and supports research on health disparities.

Areas of High Priority

  • Develop innovative interventions, including treatment regimens, prevention strategies, and innovative service delivery approaches, and personalize them for optimal use in diverse populations (e.g, across geographic locations, underserved groups, those with comorbid conditions, and all age groups).

  • Test interventions through effectiveness research and practical clinical trials, to ensure that they are safe, maximize recovery and functioning, cost-effective, and personalized (e.g., by determining optimal lengths, combinations, and sequences of interventions as well as subgroups in whom they work best).

  • Reduce the significant burden and mortality associated with suicidality through research on early detection, assessment, interventions, and services for individuals at risk in populations of all ages.

  • Identify effective dissemination and implementation processes and mechanisms to increase the uptake of scientifically informed treatments and services.

  • Employ strategic partnerships and community engagement/ participation to enhance research capacity and infrastructure to conduct research in underserved and diverse populations, as well as traditional and nontraditional service settings.

  • Identify new targets for innovative intervention (development/ refinement) and service delivery models through research that examines the burdens from mental illness as well as the current use, benefits, safety, costs, and unmet needs for mental health care.

Adult Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch
Child and Adolescent Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch
Services Research and Clinical Epidemiology Branch
Office of Research Training and Career Development

Division of Extramural Activities (DEA)

The Division of Extramural Activities: (1) provides leadership and advice in developing, implementing, and coordinating extramural programs and policies; (2) represents the Institute on extramural program and policy issues within the Department and with outside organizations; (3) provides scientific and technical peer and objective review of applications for grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts; (4) provides information and guidelines for grant applications; (5) oversees National Advisory Mental Health Council activities; (6) provides committee management services for peer review, council, and any other FACA-related committee meetings that are required at NIMH; and (7) awards grants:  ensures that applications chosen for funding comply with federal laws, regulations, and policies prior to award, which involves critical communication with the grantee throughout the pre-award, award, and post-award processes.

Extramural Policy Branch
Grants Management Branch
Scientific Review Branch

Division of Intramural Research Programs (DIRP)

The NIMH Division of Intramural Research Programs plans and conducts basic, clinical, and translational research to advance understanding of the diagnosis, causes, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders through the study of brain function and behavior. NIMH researchers conduct research ranging from studies into mechanisms of normal brain function, conducted at the behavioral, systems, cellular, and molecular levels, to clinical investigations into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness. Major disease entities studied throughout the lifespan include:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Depression
  • Epidemiology
  • Experimental Therapeutics
  • Functional Imaging
  • Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Imaging
  • Neural Development and Plasticity
  • Neuroendocrinology
  • Neurogenetics
  • Neuroimmunology and Virology (HIV)
  • Schizophrenia

Labs, Clinics, and Branches

Behavioral Endocrinology Branch
Child Psychiatry Branch
Clinical Brain Disorders Branch
Emotion and Development Branch
Experimental Therapeutics & Pathophysiology Branch
Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch
Human Genetics Branch
Laboratory of Brain and Cognition
Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Regulation
Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology
Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology & Experimental Therapeutics
Laboratory of Neuropsychology
Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience

Molecular Imaging Branch
Pediatric and Developmental Neuroscience Branch

Sections & Units Attached to the Scientific Director’s Office

Section on Affective Cognitive Neuroscience
Unit on Statistical Genomics
Unit on Neuroplasticity
Unit on Genetics of Cognition & Behavior
Section on Fundamental Neuroscience

Section on Molecular Neurobiology
Section on Neuroadaptation and Protein Metabolism
Section on Neurobiology of Fear and Anxiety
Section on Neuroendocrine Immunology
Section on Pharmacology

This page last reviewed on April 15, 2016