Plan to Advance Mental Health

In May 2020, NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) https://www.nimh.nih.gov released their Strategic Plan for Research. NIMH is the leading federal agency charged with setting and supporting the national agenda for mental health research.

Joshua A. Gordon M.D., PhD, Director of NIMH reports that the agency has plans for five years and beyond. Also, over the next few years, the agency is going to implement suicide prevention efforts. These efforts will include studies demonstrating the benefits of doing universal screening for people possibly thinking of suicide when they are in emergency departments, along with the development of computational approaches to predict suicide risk using EHRs and other digital tools.

Going forward, NIMH is also supporting an Early Psychosis Intervention Network (EPINET) to advance evidence-based treatment in the first episode psychosis. The goal of EPINET is to create a learning healthcare system in which data is routinely collected in Coordinated Specialty Care CSC) as part of the drive to continuously improve client care.

EPINET, will support regional scientific hubs that will standardize, collect, and aggregate data across community clinics and use computational methods to study CSC fidelity, quality, and treatment effectiveness.  

The Strategic Plan also emphasizes the importance of using many new digital tools. The plan points out that recent advances in technology have continued to evolve and have created new opportunities to improve access, availability, utilization, and the quality of mental healthcare services.

The growth of digital health technologies includes smartphones, wearable sensors, and EHRs, can give the public, healthcare providers, and researchers new ways to access information and be able to measure and manage health and productivity.

Today, ongoing NIMH research uses mobile and other emerging technologies to develop, test, and deliver targeted prevention and treatment interventions. Approaches include just-in-time interventions that can be pushed out using smartphones or other technologies based on information obtained on the person’s current state and needs.

Additional innovations enable patients and clinicians to use digital monitoring devices, smartphones, and other applications or dashboards to facilitate monitoring and detecting early changes in a patient’s status that might signal the need for additional or more intensive services needed to forestall relapse or hospitalizations. NIMH is also interested in using digital technologies as biomarkers for clinical outcome assessments to include in clinical trials for monitoring responses to interventions.

The plan also emphasizes harnessing the power of data by reporting that advances in data acquisition and the availability of aggregated harmonized data sets, coupled with new computational modelling tools such as machine learning are revolutionizing the efficiency where researchers can turn data into knowledge.

In addition, the plan suggests that widespread data sharing and collaborations with experts in other areas of science, should include engineers and computer scientists that would add significant value to mental health research.

The Director sums up by saying “From basic research aimed at understanding how the brain produces behavior, to the use of translational efforts to uncover novel treatment targets, to testing novel approaches in doing clinical studies testing, NIMH needs to take action to ensure that the research will impact public health across a range of timeframes from the near term to the distant future.”

Go to https://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/strategicplan  (May 2020) for the National Institute of Mental Health Strategic Plan for Research. (NIH Pub No. 20-MH-8096).

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