International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

NIMH Professional Coalition for Research Progress Meeting

Posted 1 July 2008 in StressPoints by Ellen Gerrity, PhD

I was pleased to represent ISTSS at the NIMH Professional Coalition for Research Progress meeting. The meeting was held at The Dana Center on April 18, 2008, and included four outstanding presentations (Dr. Tom Insel, Dir of NIMH; Dr. Bob Ursano, USUHS; Dr. Sue Swedo, NIMH; and Dr. Robert Heinssen, NIMH), and the opportunity for interesting discussions and interactions with many research colleagues. Participants included representatives from several research organizations, professional groups, and advocacy organizations involved in supporting research. Dr. Ursano’s presentation on “PTSD and Traumatic Stress: Public Health and Disasters, War, and Trauma,” was particularly relevant to the work of ISTSS, and was very well-received.

Dr. Tom Insel (Director of NIMH) gave the first presentation on the “NIMH Update”. He framed the discussion around the idea of “disruptive innovations” in mental health, citing comparable changes in medicine that gave rise to the need for change in public health and scientific approaches. The ‘disruptive innovations’ in mental health that are shaping the future are these ideas: (1) mental disorders as brain disorders; (2) mental disorders as developmental disorders; (3) mental disorders result from complex genetic risk plus experiential factors; and (4) current treatments may be necessary but are not sufficient for recovery. He also described the challenges that NIMH is facing: 1) mental disorders are the largest source of disability for Americans 15-44; 2) mortality is high relative to most chronic disorders; (3) costs are high, with indirect costs >2x direct costs; and (4) investing in science of mental disorders has never been more urgent. With decreasing resources (the ‘undoubling’ of the budget), NIMH must make tough choices about priorities and deal with tighter budgets. Although very focused on brain and biological research, Dr. Insel also strongly emphasized the necessity of making research relevant to practice.

Dr. Ursano (Chairman, Dept. of Psychiatry; and Director, Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, USUHS) gave a presentation on PTSD and Traumatic Stress. Dr. Ursano focused on the impact of disasters, war, and trauma on public health, offering clear and convincing examples and very interesting slides to illustrate his points. In keeping with Dr. Insel’s presentation, Dr. Ursano included current data on the impact of trauma on the brain, including examples from military exposure.

Dr. Swedo (Chief, Pediatric and Developmental Neuropsychiatry Branch, Division of Intramural Research Programs, NIMH) focused her remarks on the autism research that is underway at NIMH. She emphasized the genetics research that is underway, and also research looking at ways to diagnose and intervene early to help with treatment. Dr. Swedo highlighted the strong collaboration between NIMH and the numerous autism advocacy organizations that are working to improve research, treatment, and services for children with autism.

Dr. Heinssen (Acting Deputy Director, Division of Services and Intervention Research, NIMH) spoke of the “Prodrome of Schizophrenia”, describing the promising research that is examining the early symptoms of mid-adolescent youth as a way to identify and intervene early with those who are likely to develop schizophrenia.