By: Elaine Walker, Ph.D.
Many of the specifics of how this new strategic plan will be implemented remain to be elucidated. Nonetheless, the plan does reflect the changing landscape of mental health research and treatment. It lays out the rationale and strategies for pursuing four objectives:
- Define the mechanisms of complex behaviors.
- Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene.
- Strive for prevention and cures.
- Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research.
The third NIMH strategic objective, to “Strive for prevention and cures”, has gained traction at NIMH because of the burgeoning evidence that periods of accelerated brain development, such as adolescence and young adulthood, are also the critical risk period for the onset of most serious mental illnesses (e g., major depression, bipolar and psychotic disorders). This has fueled interest in the possibility that intervention during this period has the greatest potential for preventing these disorders. This new emphasis is reflected the NIMH support research focused on at risk youth, such as the North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study which is concerned with identifying youth at risk for psychosis and charting their neurodevelopmental course (NAPLS; Addington et al., 2012). The NAPLS project is a multidisciplinary, multisite (including Emory University) study that typifies the partnership approach described in the 2015 NIMH strategic plan.
The new data sharing initiative will certainly entail a change in the way some investigators have viewed the ‘ownership’ of data collected with NIMH funding. At the same time, data sharing has great potential for enhancing public welfare by accelerating scientific progress and promoting the “citizen-centered science” advocated in the NIMH strategic plan. It will allow a larger number of scientists, including new investigators, to utilize extant data to address novel questions. As data banks on various disorders accumulate and are integrated, they will provide an increasingly rich resource that can be analyzed in light of new scientific findings and with the application of advanced data analytic techniques. This will certainly provide maximum benefit for the taxpayers’ investment in research, and it may eventually increase the federal budget allocation to the NIH.
Dr. Walker graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Missouri in 1979. In 1978-1979, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southern California, and in 1980 she joined the faculty of Cornell University where she was Assistant, then Associate professor. In 1985, Dr. Walker accepted a faculty position in the Department of Psychology at Emory University. Dr. Walker is the recipient of awards for her research, including a WT Grant Faculty/Scholar Award, two Career Development awards from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Zubin Memorial Award from the New York Psychiatric Institute, the Gralnick Award from the American Psychological Society, the Cattell Foundation Award, the Joseph Zubin Award for life time achievement in research, the APS James McKeen Cattell award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Scholar-Teacher award from Emory University.
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