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NIMH Establishes Outreach, Education Program

By Lynn Cave

NIMH director Dr. Steven Hyman recently challenged participants at the first meeting of the new NIMH Constituency Outreach and Education Program to work with the institute to "build a world in which people with mental illness get the right interventions and the right treatment."

Clinical and basic research have led to effective treatments for mental disorders, but these advances are not being sufficiently translated into practice — leaving many people without adequate treatment, Hyman told nearly 100 representatives of state-based mental health organizations and national associations. "We cannot have healthy children able to learn in school and we cannot have a healthy work force unless the widest number of Americans has access to appropriate interventions."

The institute created the Constituency Outreach and Education Program to focus the energy of advocacy groups on merging science with service. A key element of the new program is a coalition of outreach partners, one from every state, being assembled by NIMH. The partners will conduct mental health communications programs for the public and health professionals through media relations, statewide coalition-building, and outreach to minorities and special populations such as youth and the elderly. Currently, there are 18 partners, and NIMH is actively recruiting organizations from the remaining states. Another component of the program is the NIMH Education Network — national organizations representing mental health, medical, business and education-related groups, many of which have state or regional affiliates that have the potential to link with the partners.

"We have the data we need to make sure that we are going to make a difference for people with mental illnesses," said Hyman. He noted that the outreach partners and education network members, by being informed about the latest research, will be better equipped to carry out their initiatives with health care providers, policymakers and others at the national, state and local levels.

In addition to Hyman's charge to become agents for change to improve the quality of mental health treatment throughout the nation, meeting participants also heard a series of presentations to help them bring science-based messages to their constituencies.

One panel described NIMH's new, large-scale clinical trials being carried out at multiple sites throughout the country. These studies will require the enrollment of more than 10,000 people in the next 5 years, and outreach partners were encouraged to help recruit participants. Experts on mental disorders in youth provided research findings on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other childhood disorders and on suicide risk in teenagers. Another talk integrated basic and clinical research findings on post-traumatic stress disorder, giving a clear picture of the latest understanding of the development, diagnosis and treatment of this common anxiety disorder.

A major focus of the Constituency Outreach and Education Program is eliminating racial and cultural disparities in mental health care. NIMH devoted much of the second day of the meeting to providing partners with information about how they can work to inform minority communities about current evidence-based treatment interventions. Partners shared resources, successes and challenges with each other in breakout groups devoted to communicating with African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, and Native Americans.

Members left the meeting with fresh ideas for implementing communications programs. New activities are already burgeoning. After returning from the meeting, Beth Hudnall Stamm, an outreach partner from Idaho, emailed to say, "We met with the directors of the Community Health Centers here, and they were thrilled at the mental health information available through the program. We are planning on working with the Idaho Primary Care Association using AmeriCorps volunteers to further our link with primary care."

Education network member Nancy Dube from the National Association of School Nurses commented, "I hope these dialogs and networking can continue." She reflected the feelings of other meeting participants, who, excited by the opportunities to work together, asked NIMH to facilitate continued networking by setting up an electronic mailing list for sharing ideas and developing collaborations. In addition, NIMH will convene members biennially.

The next annual meeting of the program is slated for next April and will assemble the current partners as well as those selected from the current recruitment effort. More information on the program is located at www.outreach.nimh.nih.gov.


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