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Who Is Thomas R. Insel and Why Should You Care? June 1, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Healthcare, mental illness, NAMI, Recovery.
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Who is Thomas R. Insel and why should you care?

I first came across Thomas R. Insel’s name in April 2010’s Scientific American article, Faulty Circuits.  (I wrote a blog about that article).  After seeing his name listed as one of the keynote speakers at NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Washington D.C. National Convention, I became “curiouser and curiouser”, to quote Alice in Wonderland.  With the miracle of Google to aid me, I decided to do some research to assuage my curiosity .  Who exactly was this guy?

As it turns out, Dr. Thomas R. Insel is the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, it is the largest research organization in the world specializing in mental illness.  Formally established in 1949, research is conducted in Bethesda, Maryland at a central campus- not too far from NAMI’s roots in Baltimore. Their mission,  “transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illness” aims to reduce the burden of mental illness and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior, with particular focus on genetics, neuroscience, and clinical trials of psychiatric medication.

Based on blog entries In his Director’s Blog ( http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/index.shtml) as well as the Scientific American article, it’s not surprising that his tenure at NIMH has been distinguished by groundbreaking findings in the areas of practical clinical trials, autism research, and the role of genetics in mental illness.  What is surprising is the refreshingly honest glimpse into the state of affairs that his blog gives the general public.

In his March 30 entry, Who Will Develop the Next Generation of Medications for Mental Illness, Insel examines the mass exodus of the pharmaceutical companies from the psychiatric medication development programs.  According to Dr. Insel, two of the major pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca will  no longer develop new psychiatric medication for a number of reasons that he goes into depth about in his article.  He then comforts the audience with the exciting notion that “the scientific opportunities for progress (in the psychiatric medication development department) have never been better”, and then goes on to explain how NIMH can help get the job of developing new psychiatric medications done.

In today’s blog, Dr. Insel cites several surprising (to me, at least) statistics, including:

  1. Each year, there are nearly twice as many suicides (33,000) as homicides (18,000).
  2. The life expectancy for people with major mental illness is 56 years (the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 77.7 years).
  3. Mental disorders and substance abuse are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada.

Then, he moves on to show how much mental illness and incarceration are intertwined and what can be done about it.  As he is in a position of authority, with the power to make changes, I have hope that he will be able to make a difference. This one man, in the right position at the right time with the right experience and knowledge, will no doubt make a great difference in the lives of the people living with mental illness, both inside the prison system and outside of it. He just might even change the face of the prison community.

Overall, his blog, highlighting the challenges and successes of his work at NIMH, presents hope for those of us suffering from mental illness that progress is indeed being made on the medical front.

I am excited to have such a distinguished gentleman in such an important position. Great things can and will be accomplished with Dr. Insel at the helm of the NIMH.  In conjunction with NAMI, we will no doubt see great strides made in the way we look at and treat mental illness in the not-too-distant future.



1. Carl - August 6, 2010

I understand PTSD is a huge problem now with returning Vets.
I was wondering where I can Volunteer in the NY area.

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