NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is the National Institute of Mental Health Insane?

January 20, 2004

Despite a massive increase in funding, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the federal agency responsible for research on mental illnesses, is neglecting needed research, says E. Fuller Torrey. But it continues studying such things as pigeons. The NIMH is the world's leading center for study on how pigeons think, funding 92 research projects on pigeons from 1972 to 2002.

  • Over the past five years, the institute's budget has doubled from $661 million to $1.3 billion.
  • The NIMH spends just 5.8 percent on research for treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and other afflictions, although serious mental illnesses account for 58 percent of the total costs of mental illnesses in the United States.
  • The percentage of NIMH research resources devoted to serious mental illnesses actually fell over the past five years, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.

According to Torrey, the NIMH funded research on how Papua New Guineans think but not on a treatment trial for schizophrenia; bankrolled research on college students' self-esteem but not on bipolar disorder in children; and paid for a study on how electric fish communicate but not for one on why some schizophrenics refuse to take their medication.

The problem, according to Torrey, is that the agency perceives it mission as funding research on all forms of human behavior and social problems, rather than concentrating on mental illness.

Source: E. Fuller Torrey (Treatment Advocacy Center), "Bird Brains," Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2004; adapted from E. Fuller Torrey, "A Federal Program for the Birds," City Journal, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter 2004, Manhattan Institute.

For WSJ text (requires subscription),,SB107456080189905940,00.html

For free MI text


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