(July 13, 2012) One of the lesser-known aspects of the Treatment Advocacy Center’s mission is support for “the development of innovative treatments for and research into the causes of severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses.”
It was while wearing this hat that we participated in a recent NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) meeting of stakeholders in mental illness research.
“Learning about trends in brain research is like looking at mental illness treatment from 30,000 feet up,” said Executive Director Doris A. Fuller afterward. “You don’t walk away with treatments you can put to work with a sick loved one when you go home today, but you see the landscape that may yield those treatments tomorrow.”
Of immediate relevance, she said, was NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel’s description of the "best" and "worst" news on the research (and, by extension, the treatment development) front.
The best news is that “transformative technologies” that make breakthroughs possible are coming faster than ever. Mapping the human genome originally took 12 years and cost $4 billion, Insel said. Improved technology would make the same achievement possible now in four days at a cost of $12,000.
Insel cited four pieces of “worst” news:
- The squeeze in state and federal funding. Budget cuts impact mental illness treatment at every point from basic science to delivery.
- The uncertainty of 2013 funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH, of which NIMH is a part). The NIH budget could be reduced 8% if scheduled across-the-board federal budget cuts (“sequestration”) take place early next year. On a practical level for the NIMH, he said, this would result in a reduction from about 500 new research grants per year to 200.
- Pharmaceutical withdrawal from researching and developing new medications for severe mental illness. “Every major drug company has decided this is not a field they want to be in,” Insel told the group. Since public money to replace this research doesn’t exist, this makes the prospect of new and better drugs in the future very dim.
- A severe public health crisis in which the medical needs of people with severe mental illness are being unmet.
Putting on another Treatment Advocacy Center hat, what this means is that those who live and work with severe mental illness need to be relentless advocates from the ground up to 30,000 feet and beyond. For tips on effective advocacy, visit Get Involved.