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NIMH Leader Discusses How to Make an Impact in Global Mental Health

April 14, 2015

Last week, Pamela Collins, director of the Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), spoke at Duke through the Duke Global Health Institute’s global mental health initiative. Her talk focused on strategies for elevating mental health in the global health agenda and the role of research in global mental health. 

Collins Notes Connection between Global Mental Health and Human Rights

Collins noted that global health emphasizes our interconnectedness and interdependencies while considering the unique social, political, environmental and economic circumstances of specific communities. Global mental health, she said, applies these same principles to addressing mental disorders, but with a particular emphasis on preserving the human rights of people with mental illness, who have historically been stigmatized and marginalized.

She stressed the importance of engaging in bi-directional collaboration, including the perspectives of the people the research is intended to benefit and building a global research workforce that reflects the populations being studied. 

Global Mental Health Can Learn Lessons from the HIV/AIDS Field

Collins highlighted the progress the field of HIV/AIDS has made in reducing the number of infections and increasing access to care. She attributed these successes to several factors:

  • Rapid development and scaling of innovations
  • Willingness and capacity to change course as new evidence surfaced
  • Targeted funding that encourages creative partnerships

These factors, she suggested, are transferable to the study and practice of global mental health.

Global Mental Health Stakeholders Must Emphasize Credibility and Salience

According to Collins, demonstrating the devastating impact of mental disorders in a way that’s credible and meaningful to key decision makers is critical to moving the global mental health agenda forward. Examples of these strategies include:

  • Highlighting the incredible disability and high mortality rates experienced by people with mental disorders
  • Increasing our understanding of mental disorders through brain research
  • Demonstrating the immense economic burden of mental illness
  • Aligning mental health issues with broader global health initiatives such as the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals

Global Mental Health Has Seen Success on Some Fronts

Collins cited a few successes in global mental health, such as an increasing movement toward task-shifting—using less specialized providers to deliver evidence-based interventions—in low-income countries where mental health specialists are few and far between. Another example is a growing number of institutions and funders, such as the Movement for Global Mental Health, dedicated to advancing mental health research, prevention and treatment globally.

The NIMH Is Putting Substantial Resources into Global Mental Health

The NIMH has also increased their global mental health focus, resulting in a number of successful initiatives. “We’ve been really excited and quite lucky over the last five years to have significantly ramped up funding for global mental health through a variety of mechanisms,” Collins said. These mechanisms include Grand Challenges, institutional training grants, and partnerships with the Fogarty International Center to support training in global mental health.

Collins briefly discussed a few of the Grand Challenges launched by the NIMH, beginning in 2010 with the Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health. The NIMH has also issued a Grand Challenge for projects that focus on integrating mental health and chronic disease. Another initiative funded projects that reflected collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders and an emphasis on task-sharing and local research capacity-building.  

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Pamela_Collins
Pamela Collins, director of the Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

According to Collins, demonstrating the devastating impact of mental disorders in a way that’s credible and meaningful to key decision makers is critical to moving the global mental health agenda forward.

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