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Vol. LXV, No. 12
June 7, 2013
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NIMH, Community Partners Discuss Violence, Mental Illness

Kate Mattias, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut, addresses the OPP meeting.

Kate Mattias, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut, addresses the OPP meeting.

“We have to think about how to make sure the research we do at NIMH really brings an impact to where it matters—in communities,” NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel told more than 100 representatives of state and national mental health organizations gathered in Natcher Conference Center. The group convened recently for the 14th annual meeting of the NIMH Outreach Partnership Program (OPP), a nationwide initiative to increase the public’s access to mental health research through partnerships with 55 organizations from across the U.S. More than 80 national organizations also participate in the program.

During his keynote address, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins called the OPP “a great model” of how NIH wants to connect with communities. He highlighted pioneering discoveries, innovative technologies and NIH neuroscience initiatives. “It’s an exhilarating time to be a biomedical researcher,” he said.

Partners learned about groundbreaking research being conducted by NIMH intramural scientists, such as fast-acting antidepressant medication trials and adolescent brain development studies. NIMH grantees described interventions to improve the health and longevity of individuals with serious mental illness. Partners also shared their experiences and outreach strategies in critical public health areas such as suicide prevention.

A special panel discussion, “How Sandy Hook Is Changing the Conversation,” addressed issues related to mental illness and violent behavior, sparked by mass shootings such as occurred in Newtown, Conn.

Partners described efforts to help communities cope with such traumatic events. “We have spent a considerable amount of time on decoupling the actual act that occurred at Sandy Hook from someone who has a mental illness,” said Kate Mattias, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Connecticut.

NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel moderates a dialogue on violence and mental illness at the NIMH Outreach Partnership Program meeting. NIH director Dr. Francis Collins delivers the OPP meeting’s keynote address.

NIMH director Dr. Thomas Insel moderates a dialogue on violence and mental illness at the NIMH Outreach Partnership Program meeting.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins delivers the OPP meeting’s keynote address.

Stereotypes that wrongly link mental illness to violent behavior tend to develop as people attempt to rationalize violence that is difficult to explain, noted Dr. Bruce Link of Columbia University. He suggested that educating the public is key to overcoming these stereotypes and misperceptions about mental illness. Dr. Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University emphasized the importance of swiftly supplying the public with accurate mental health information, because the few months following an event like Sandy Hook is “a time when they are paying attention.”

Brian Altman of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration described the National Dialogue on Mental Health, a new federal initiative called for by the President, which will include community conversations, social media and a new mental health web portal.

Early detection of mental illness proved to be an important issue to partners and panelists alike. Dr. Larry Wissow of Johns Hopkins University discussed the need for systematic engagement of pediatricians in mental health screenings of children and adolescents. Dr. Philip Leaf, also from Johns Hopkins University, noted that many early interventions in schools have proven effective in reducing violent incidents, arrests and suspensions.

“Most violence has nothing to do with mental illness and most mental illness has nothing to do with violence,” said Insel. He suggested mental health researchers and advocates “use this as a teachable moment.”


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