Advancing Mental Health Research: Washington University's Center for Mental Health Services Research

By Proctor, Enola K.; McMillen, Curtis et al. | Social Work Research, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Advancing Mental Health Research: Washington University's Center for Mental Health Services Research


Proctor, Enola K., McMillen, Curtis, Haywood, Sally, Dore, Peter, Social Work Research


Research centers have become a key component of the research infrastructure in schools of social work, including the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. In 1993, that school's Center for Mental Health Services Research (CMHSR) received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as a Social Work Research Development Center (R24 MH50857), with a renewal in 1999 for five more years of support. After the program announcement for the social work research development center mechanism expired, the center applied under an "advanced" mechanism and in 2004 was awarded five years of funding as an NIMH Advanced Center for Interventions and Services Research (P30 MH068579).This article describes the background for developing the center, the center's aims and research agenda, its structure and functioning, and outcomes of CMHSR from 1993 to the present.

KEY WORDS: faculty mentoring; mental health services; National Institute of Mental Health; research center; research infrastructure

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In 1993, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, St. Louis, Center for Mental Health Services Research (CMHSR) received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as a Social Work Research Development Center (R24 MH50857), with a renewal in 1999 for five more years of support. After the program announcement (PA) for the social work research development center mechanism expired, the center applied under an "advanced" mechanism and in 2004 was awarded five years of funding as an NIMH Advanced Center for Interventions and Services Research (P30 MH068579).

BACKGROUND, PURPOSE, AND FUNDING FOR THE CMHSR

Although social work has long been recognized as one of the dominant professions providing mental health services, it has lacked a commensurate level of research activity in mental health. In the late 1980s, a national Task Force on Social Work Research (1991) challenged the profession to increase its research activity in mental health, so that the services provided by social workers might be informed by research conducted by social work researchers and thus shaped by social work perspectives. The task force also called for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to launch new initiatives aimed at advancing social work's research capacity. NIMH responded through several activities targeted to social work, including a PA for Social Work Research Development Centers (SWRDCs).The announcement was widely disseminated within the social work community, and NIMH convened meetings to inform interested deans and doctoral program directors about the PA and application requisites.

These national events triggered extensive discussion within the Brown School about interest in and capacity for mental health research. Mental health was one of the schools' largest curriculum concentrations in the MSW, and several faculty members identified mental health as one of their research interests. The school's strong research culture and publication record notwithstanding, it had received very few external research or training grants in the area of mental health. The dean of the Brown School (Shanti K. Khinduka, 1974-2004) asked Enola K. Proctor to lead a planning process to develop an application in response to the NIMH SWRDC announcement. Planning meetings were open to all interested faculty and included leadership of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, researchers at the University's Department of Psychiatry, and staff from local mental health organizations and agencies. An application resulted; after two submissions, the Center was established as the nation's first SWRDC in September 1993. Its mental health services research agenda reflected the interests of faculty members who developed pilot projects for the grant application. NIMH staff members, Drs. Juan Ramos and the late Kenneth G. Lutterman, were instrumental in the formation of this NIMH program announcement. …

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