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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Transdisciplinary Research Centers to Advance Clinical Practice in Mental Health


Robert K. Heinssen, Ph.D., ABPP
Division of Services and Intervention Research


The goal of this initiative is to support transdisciplinary teams of clinical and mental health services researchers, behavioral and social scientists, health information and communications technologists, health systems engineers, decision scientists, and mental health stakeholders (e.g., service users, family members, clinicians, payers) to engage in high-impact studies that will significantly advance clinical practice and generate knowledge to fuel transformation of mental health care in the United States.


Mental disorders affect 15-20 percent of the U.S. population annually and account for 21.3 percent of all years lived with disability in the United States. Approximately 10 million American adults suffer from a serious mental illness (SMI) in which the ability to function in daily life is significantly impaired. On average, those with SMI die 11-29 years earlier than individuals in the general population. Furthermore, over 40,000 Americans die each year from suicide, more than twice the annual mortality from homicide. Financial costs associated with mental illnesses in the U.S. are conservatively estimated at over $300 billion annually. This high public health burden demands that we combine current knowledge about effective mental disorder treatments with emerging health information and communication technologies, health care informatics, data science tools, and novel organizational structures for delivering health care to achieve significantly better outcomes for these disabling conditions.

Transdisciplinary phase 2 translational research centers (T2) would support rapid development, testing, and refinement of novel and integrative approaches for 1) optimizing the effectiveness of existing therapeutic or preventive interventions for mental disorders within well-defined target populations; 2) organizing and delivering optimized mental health services within real world treatment settings; and 3) continuously improving the quality, impact, and durability of optimized interventions and service delivery within diverse care systems. The proposed research centers would provide a mechanism for maximizing synergies across various components of the mental health research ecosystem, including new discoveries in basic and clinical research; transformative information, communication, and social networking technologies; advances in information science; behavioral economic and social marketing strategies for influencing health behaviors, and new federal and state mechanisms for organizing and financing mental health care. Transdisciplinary research centers provide a unique opportunity for addressing T2 translational priorities outlined in the NIMH Strategic Plan, i.e., effective transfer of findings from clinical studies to practice settings and communities, where research findings can be applied to improve public health.

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