NIMH Charts Strategy for Mood Disorders Research: Expect Funding to Be Tied to Priorities. (Objectives Defined)

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The National Institute of Mental Health has unveiled a comprehensive blueprint that will guide future research on mood disorders and could channel funding into areas with the greatest potential to improve clinical practice.

"Breaking Ground, Breaking Through: The Strategic Plan for Mood Disorders Research of the National Institute of Mental Health" is the product of 2 years of intense planning by nearly 200 scientific leaders and researchers, consumer advocates, NIMH staff, and members of the National Advisory Mental Health Council. The 113-page document was released last month.

The report defines four areas of research and sets priorities and objectives for each:

* Basic and clinical neuroscience.

* Age and its effect on mood disorders.

* Improving outcomes through treatment, prevention, and services.

* Expanding and strengthening the research foundation.

The strategic plan could be the compass that finally directs disparate research to a common destination, said Dr. Carl C. Bell, president and CEO of the Community Mental Health Council of Chicago, and a professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Dr. Bell served on the psychosocial intervention work group.

"Part of the problem with this research is that it has occurred in a fragmented way," he said. "You don't get synergy, which is problematic. Hopefully this will get everyone going in the same direction with similar tools and agendas."

Because funding will be directly tied to the priorities expressed in each document, the plans will shepherd researchers into the specific areas most experts believe need exploration, Dr. Bell said.

The new plan won't eliminate investigator-initiated research, which sometimes yields serendipitous results in unforeseen areas and has, historically grabbed the lion's share of NIMH research funding, said Dr. Neal Ryan, another member of the psychosocial intervention work group. However, it may change the funding ratio, providing more money to areas identified as having the greatest potential to improve clinical procedures in the treatment of mood disorders.

"There are a lot of treatments for mood disorders, but we don't do as well as we should in treating them," said Dr. Ryan of the University of Pittsburgh. "What this plan did was to say, 'Here's where there is room for improvement.' There is work going on in many of these areas already but we need more."

The NIMH plan will sound familiar to anyone who knows about the research agenda recently proposed by the American Psychiatric Association as a basis for its upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

That's not surprising, Dr. Bell said. Both documents drew on the talents of many of the same experts, and both aim to stimulate research in many of the same areas. Because the two documents pinpoint similar issues, their effect on research should be profound, he predicted.

It's not a coincidence, either, that the documents have such commonality. There has always been a wish to connect research with diagnostic models, Dr. …