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Advances in Global Mental Health Research and Research Capacity Building

Meeting Summary
Rockville, MD

Sponsored by: Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health (ORDGMH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

On May 2-3, 2013, the Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health (ORDGMH) in the Office of the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) invited stakeholders from around the world to present study designs and key considerations for mental health services research in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); discuss the interface of advocacy, policy and research; and identify developments in research capacity-building. A total of 130 participants from low-, middle-, and high- income countries attended the gathering in-person or via telecommunication technology. Participants represented funders (Grand Challenges Canada, International Financial Corporation, Scientists Without Borders, Wellcome Trust, NIMH, and Fogarty International Center); mental health non-governmental organizations (NGOs); the World Health Organization; universities; and, other government agencies. The meeting occurred at a pivotal moment in global mental health research, marked by a growing community of investigators and funders and the recognition by stakeholders of the need for optimizing collaborations and leveraging partnerships to implement sustainable evidence-based interventions. The objectives of the meeting were to provide opportunities for 1) dissemination of current research activities and identification of gaps in global mental health services research; 2) structured mentoring of early career investigators; 3) discussion of funding priorities among current global mental health funders; and, 4) formation of new research collaborations.

NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D., and ORDGMH Director Pamela Collins, M.D., M.P.H., opened the meeting by discussing the importance of engaging the global scientific community and other stakeholders, anticipating and responding to global public health trends, and focusing on equity in order to deliver evidence-based mental health care worldwide. In his plenary presentation, Shekhar Saxena, M.D., described on-going efforts at the World Health Organization to finalize a mental health action plan and to include mental health in the post-2015 global development agenda. The plenary was followed by a series of presentations from policy makers, representatives of NGOs, and investigators working in LMICs. These investigators emphasized the need to engage a diverse group of stakeholders in research, while also demonstrating their respective research models on a life-course approach to mental health research and efforts to build research infrastructure in LMICs. A late afternoon session of round table discussions allowed participants to interact on topics including research capacity building, translating research to practice, and mental health services research.

The first session on the second day centered on innovative funding approaches and funding priorities from private and government organizations. Researchers seeking funding through traditional federal research agencies are often unaware of other mechanisms that may have the potential to contribute to project sustainability. Judith Bass, Ph.D., delivered a plenary presentation on the importance of social context in the conduct of mental health research. The context carries implications for resource availability, conceptualizations of illness, selection of appropriate mental health service providers, and ensuring use of validated outcome assessments—all of which can be significant factors in the design of mental health services research. A subsequent panel of presenters considered the complexities of diagnosis, validation, and interpretation of diagnostic assessments among varied ethnic populations in the United States and in diverse cultural settings abroad. New approaches to research on classification and assessment of disorders—from the NIMH’s Research Domain Criteria Project to computerized adaptive testing—were presented, and their application to the global context was discussed. The final panel of presenters highlighted needs for building mental health treatment and research capacity among professionals in LMICS and among trainees from high income countries.

A more detailed report on the meeting will be forthcoming.

For more information, please contact Jude Awuba, M.P.H., at jude.awuba@nih.gov or 301-443-9650.