NAMI is refocusing its efforts and returning to its roots in research advocacy—looking for better treatments and models both at the brain science and service levels. We now have quarterly meetings with Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to continue to learn from the latest in science and to advocate for better treatments for our membership. NIMH also needs more resources, which is another of our advocacy challenges.
Fortunately, NIMH has refocused its work upon better connecting with the public health burden and real-life challenges of people living with serious mental illness. Dr. Insel said he heard one message loud and clear from our membership at the 2010 convention in Washington, D.C.—that we need better treatments. A few areas from the NIMH discussions I found interesting:
- A major iniative is dedicated to reconceptualizing the way brain functions work—and don’t work—together based on new data in neuroscience and genetics. Examples of the new conceptual model being developed (Research Domain Criteria—or RDoC ) organize everything we know about brain structure genetics and functions along key lines such as learning, memory or fear. The idea is to supplement the current diagnostic schema undergoing revision by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) with additional knowledge gleaned from basic research. I was drawn to this approach as it may yield a return on the genetic research that, while stimulating for science overall, has produced few tangible advances for our members.
- NIMH has sponsored research on ketamine as a possible antidepressant. This is a complex medication used in anesthesia and also a street drug (special K) that offers interesting models for the treatment of depression, especially bipolar depression, which is notoriously hard to impact. The search for better medications to treat serious mental illness is of course a principle NAMI advocacy point.
I can’t express how amazing our membership is. When people need Family-to-Family they are typically in a crisis. This selfless and heroic spirit of helping others to test how effective the program is speaks volumes about who our members are—truly giving individuals willing to put their own needs on hold to make a larger difference.