Outreach Partnership Program 2012 Annual Meeting: Overview
March 19 - 22, 2012
In March 2012, nearly 90 researchers, national partner organizations, and Outreach Partners from every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico met in Denver, Colorado for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Outreach Partnership Program Annual Meeting. These NIMH partner organizations came together to learn more about the latest scientific research and best practices in the causes, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders across the lifespan.
The Outreach Partnership Program is a nationwide initiative of NIMH’s Office of Constituency Relations and Public Liaison, and is designed to increase the public’s access to science-based mental health information through partnerships with national and state nonprofit mental health organizations.
- Mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability around the world, costing $2.5 trillion per year.1
- Mental health experts from around the U.S. presented the latest research on several promising areas, including genetics; interventions for older adults, youths, and individuals affected by trauma; and, family-oriented approaches to treating eating disorders and bipolar disorder.
- NIMH seeks to "transform the understanding and treatment of mental illness." A key part of that goal is working with the Outreach Partners to help others understand mental disorders and current research efforts.
- The NIMH website contains a wealth of materials that partners can display on their own websites, as well as distribute to patients and family members.
Mental disorders are the "most burdensome" class of disorders today, accounting for one-third of all disability worldwide, said Philip Wang, M.D., Dr.P.H., Deputy Director of NIMH, at the Outreach Partnership Program’s 2012 Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, this spring.2 However, companies that traditionally develop new medical treatments, such as pharmaceutical companies, seem to be leaving the mental health field. In large part, said Dr. Wang, this is because they perceive that the root causes of mental illness are not well understood, and therefore potential new treatment targets are not yet known. As a result, he said, NIMH is taking on a larger role, increasing support for research on the causes of mental disorders and the pathways through which disorders develop that will yield new treatment targets. "We are facing challenges in generating new treatments," he said. "But there are also some promising advances."
Dr. Wang described several encouraging areas of current research that could lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of mental illness as well as new treatment targets. He highlighted work with induced pluripotent stem cells and faster-acting drugs for treating depression. In addition, he said, "There have been some dramatic advances in understanding the genetic risk factors behind mental illness." Another major advance, he said, is the "connectome," an effort to map the connections of the brain and provide a new understanding of how the brain is wired, made possible through advanced neuroimaging techniques.
Over the four-day meeting, leading researchers and Outreach Partners discussed several areas of current research, including global mental health disparities; genetics; interventions for older adults, teens, military service members, and African American women; family-oriented interventions; and efforts to reduce suicide rates.
Keynote speaker Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., Director of the Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics at the University of Washington, opened the meeting with a personal and inspiring story of how she developed dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for people at risk of suicide and those with borderline personality disorder.
"Real change is possible," she said. With DBT, therapists can help people to "build a life worth living."
Pamela Collins, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the NIMH Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health shared the latest news on global mental health disparities: "Globally, spending on mental health is less than $2 per person, per year.3 Almost half of the world’s population lives in a country where there is one psychiatrist or fewer to serve 200,000 people."3 NIMH is addressing this issue, in part, through funding for the Collaborative Hubs for International Research in Mental Health in low- and middle-income countries. The program will support research that examines mental health services and provides research training in low-resource settings. Moreover, the program responds to one of the top 25 challenges of the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health, an initiative which identified priority research needs for the next decade.
Participants also had the opportunity to discuss research findings and current issues, and learn about Partner activities in roundtable topic sessions chaired by Outreach Partners and research experts, and in the Partner Sharing Session. Two Outreach Partners also shared lessons learned during plenary sessions on suicide. Heidi Bryan, Project Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Adult/Older Adult Suicide Prevention Coalition, discussed talking with older adults about suicide risk.
"We take a back-door approach," she said. "We talk about brain health and healthy living, not mental illness. We talk about how they can recognize the signs of depression in other people. Older adults are often not willing to accept help, but they will always offer to help others." Ann Kirkwood, M.A., Senior Research Associate at Idaho State University, talked about a new postvention program to help schools after a student’s suicide. The program includes sample scripts for telling other parents and dealing with the media, and sends a team to the school to provide technical help.
Stefano Bertuzzi, Ph.D., M.P.H., Director of the NIMH Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications (OSPPC), wrapped up the meeting with a talk about the role of the Outreach Partners and the NIMH resources available to them.
"As the NIMH mission statement says, we need to 'transform the understanding and treatment of mental illness,'" he said. Key aspects of effecting that change, he said, are improving the public’s understanding what research is being done today, and talking about mental health with others.
"We have several key messages," Dr. Bertuzzi said. "First, 'Mental disorders are brain disorders.' This is not bad parenting; this is not something that just happens. There are genetic reasons, and developmental reasons for mental illness. Other key messages are: 'They often begin early in life,' and 'They can be treated.' We have a long way to go, but they can be treated. Finally, 'Seek help as early as possible.'"
Dr. Bertuzzi and Karin Lee, a science writer with OSPPC, discussed some of the materials that Outreach Partners can use to help convey these messages. The NIMH website, they noted, is full of information for the public, including brochures, educational materials, public domain images, low-literacy publications, videos, and Spanish-language publications. NIMH also communicates actively via social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. A new Email Updates service allows people to subscribe to topic-specific news. A new widget that can stream NIMH news on Partner websites is also available. OSPPC is looking at new ways to get the word out, said Ms. Lee, including e-reader formats and text messages.
Dr. Bertuzzi closed with a request for help from the Outreach Partners. "We need to change opinion, change the culture." Let NIMH know what you need, he said, what’s going on in the trenches.
Recalling one speaker who said "she is the person who picks up the phone" when someone is suicidal, Dr. Bertuzzi also praised the Partners: "You are changing the world with your actions today."