National Institute of Mental Health

National Institute of Mental Health
   in the United States (from 1949).
   The Narcotics Division of the Public Health Service (PHS) was established in 1929 and was renamed in 1930 the Division of Mental Hygiene. (See also Wikler, Abraham.) This division constituted the nucleus of the later NIMH. In 1934, Lawrence Kolb (1881–1972), a PHS officer, was appointed its chief medical officer, becoming in 1938 assistant surgeon general in charge of the Division of Mental Hygiene. Kolb retired in 1944, but he had wanted to set up a national neuropsychiatric institute within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) modeled on the recently founded cancer and heart institutes.
   After the Second World War, the large number of veterans with mental-health problems focused federal attention on this area. The National Mental Health Act of 1946 called for the creation of a National Institute of Mental Health with an in-house research program, and in 1949 the new institute got its first congressional appropriation. Robert Felix (1904–1990), who had succeeded Kolb as the director of mental hygiene, was the new institute’s director; after 1951, Seymour Kety (1915–2000) was in charge of research. During the years, billions of federal dollars would go into "intramural" mental-health research (done at NIMH) and "extramural" research (grants to outside investigators).
   In 1963, NIMH received a new role in the provision of services with the Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act.
   Spooked by fears of psychiatry becoming just another medical discipline, in 1967 director Stanley Yolles (1919–2001) moved the NIMH outside the NIH structure, leaving the intramural research program attached to NIH. (NIMH definitively rejoined NIH only in 1989.) In 1973, research on addiction at the newly established National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) was moved outside the NIMH into a new federal agency (the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, or ADAMHA*) that also housed the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA (created in 1970), as well as NIMH itself.†
   * Administratively established by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (DHEW) in 1973; officially recognized in Public Law 93–282 in 1974.
   † In 1989, when ADAMHA was abolished and the research components of NIMH returned to NIH, the research programs of NIAAA and NIDA came into NIH as well. The services components of the three institutes became part of a new PHS agency, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
   The NIMH has played a distinctive role in the development of psychopharmacology in the United States. In 1955, Felix set up an Ad Hoc Committee on Psychopharmacology, jointly chaired by Kety, then chief of the laboratory of clinical science of NIMH, and by Robert Cohen (1909–), the clinical director. The following year, 1956, NIMH created the Psychopharmacology Service Center (PSC), generously funded by Congress after testimony by Nathan Kline and lobbyist Mike Gorman (1913–1989). Jonathan Cole (1925–) became the director of the PSC, with Gerald Klerman his assistant (Klerman traveled to the United Kingdom to see how clinical trials were done). Cole was replaced in 1967 by Jerome Levine (1934–). The drug trials arm of the PSC was the Early Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit program (the "ECDEU"), which began in 1960 and was funded until the mid-1970s. By 1969, some 35 ECDE units had studied 177 investigational drugs. In 1966, the PSC became the Psychopharmacology Research Branch of NIMH.
   As well, in 1957 Joel Elkes created the Clinical Neuropharmacology Research Center of NIMH in the William A. White building of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. (NIMH would retain control of these facilities and their successors even as St. Elizabeths Hospital was transferred in 1987 from NIMH to the District of Columbia; the labs were moved to the NIH main "campus" only in 1996.)
   The changing directors of NIMH reflect the changes in the research orientation of American psychiatry. Robert H. Felix (1904–1990) (director 1949–1964) was a psychoanalyst; Stanley Yolles (1919–2001) (in office 1964–1970), and Bertram Brown (1931–) (in office 1970–1977) were both interested in community psychiatry and drug abuse; Herbert Pardes (1934–) (in office 1978–1984) and Shervert Frazier (1921–) (in office 1984–1986) were psychoanalysts who had switched to biological psychiatry. Subsequent directors had really spent their lives in biological research, including Lewis Judd (1930–) (in office 1988–1992), Frederick Goodwin (1936–) (in office 1992–1994), and Steven Hyman (1952–) (in office 1996–2002), who conducted research on synaptic transmission and genetics. (Rex W. Cowdry was acting director between 1994 and 1996.)

Edward Shorter. 2014.

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