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Innovative Mental Health Services Research Not Involving Clinical Trials


Christine M. Ulbricht, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Division of Services and Intervention Research


The goal of this concept would be to support non-clinical trial mental health services research in high priority, but understudied areas where generating new knowledge can have high public health impact. This concept is intended to foster research that aligns with the NIMH Strategic Plan for Research Goal 4: Strengthen the Public Health Impact of NIMH-Supported Research.


There continues to be a substantial unmet need for mental health services in the United States. Findings from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggest that only 46.2% of U.S. adults with any mental illness and 64.5% of those with serious mental illness received mental health services in the past year. Accordingly, NIMH seeks new and innovative research to improve the adoption, sustained implementation, and continuous improvement of high-quality mental health services to benefit all individuals, especially children and adolescents with developmental precursors of mental illnesses and people with serious mental illness, neurodevelopmental conditions, and complex health needs. 

Research is needed to 1) identify and evaluate mutable factors impacting care access, continuity, utilization, equity, quality, value, and outcomes as targets for service delivery intervention development; 2) develop and apply innovative research tools, technologies, measures, and methods for studying these issues; 3) integrate and analyze large data sets to understand factors affecting mental health services and outcomes; and 4) build new, and leverage existing, infrastructure and partnerships to achieve these goals. Priority areas include suicide prevention; increasing access to evidence-based mental health care for those of all ages with mental disorders; optimizing treatment for individuals with serious mental illness, including those with early psychosis and co-occurring conditions; rigorous quality improvement strategies within a learning health care framework; optimizing service use, delivery, and outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorder across the lifespan; and advancing innovative mental health service research methods.

This concept aims to support NIMH’s commitment to research to reduce disparities and advance equity for racial and ethnic minority groups, individuals limited by language or cultural barriers, sexual and gender minorities, individuals living in rural areas, and socioeconomically disadvantaged persons, and other underserved groups. To increase the likelihood that findings will meaningfully inform and be translated into practice, NIMH would encourage research that is conducted in community practice and externally valid settings, involves research participants from highly generalizable target populations, and utilizes services that can be readily and widely implemented in routine care settings. In addition, partnerships with public and private stakeholders would also be prioritized to help ensure findings are relevant, practical, and actionable.