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The Role of Public Reviewers

The role of public reviewers is to bring the perspectives from individuals and family members who have been directly affected by mental illness, as well and from clinicians, caregivers, and/or policy makers to the first level of review  and to enhance the capability of the review committee to evaluate the “real world” relevance and practicality of each research application. Even though many of the scientific experts have knowledge in these areas, further emphasis on this perspective will help identify the most meritorious applications. Public reviewers are asked to evaluate issues such as the protection of human subjects, the feasibility of the proposed research and the importance or relevance of a particular application to answering questions about mental illness and understanding behavior, including: is this area important? Do we need this information? Is this research going to improve patient care?


Public reviewers come from all “walks of life.” Some have advanced or professional degrees, others do not. One thing that all public reviewers have in common is that they typically have had some involvement with mental health care as consumers, family members, mental health professionals, members of advocacy groups, educators, etc. In other words, public reviewers will usually meet one of more of the following criteria:

  • Experience with mental disorders, e.g., as a person with a mental disorder, a family member, caregiver, or supporter of such a person
  • Experience with mental disorders as a mental health care practitioner, payer or policy maker
  • Experience as a research participant in studies of mental disorders
  • Community service involving representation of the interests and perspectives of people with mental disorders (e.g., service on mental health boards or committees) relevant publications, or presentations

An individual need not meet all four criteria to be selected.


NIMH selects public reviewers based on a multistage application and training process. Once an application is submitted to NIMH, it will be evaluated for the following criteria:

  • Past participation in decision making bodies at a national, state, or local level
  • Experience with clinical trials or the protection of human participants
  • An understanding of the need to include gender and geographic diversity, underrepresented ethnic and racial groups, and individuals from socially, culturally, economically, or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds in any study that involves human participants
  • Gender, geographic, racial and ethnic diversity among reviewers
  • Evidence of oral and written expression skills
  • Availability to participate in review meetings
  • Comfort and skill in using the internet and email
  • Service, advocacy, policy setting, or other first-hand experience with the mental health care system