The Science of Mental Illness
sponsoring Institutes
Main Getting Started Teacher's Guide Student Activities About NIH and NIMH
glossary | map | contact 
National Institutes of Health website National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website


National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental Health

The Science of Mental Illness

Main    Getting Started    Teacher's Guide    Student Activities    About NIH and NIMH

Glossary    Map    Contact

About NIH NIH building

About NIH

About the National Institutes of Health

click to play NIH video
This movie requires <a href="">QuickTime</a>.

Mission and Goals

The NIH mission is science in pursuit of fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to extend healthy life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability. The goals of the agency are to

NIH works toward meeting those goals by providing leadership, direction, and grant support to programs designed to improve the health of the nation through research in the


Composed of 27 separate institutes and centers, NIH is one of eight health agencies of the Public Health Service within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH encompasses 75 buildings on more than 300 acres in Bethesda, Md., as well as facilities at several other sites in the United States. The NIH budget has grown from about $300 in 1887 to more than $28 billion in 2005.

Research Programs

One of NIH's principal concerns is to invest wisely the tax dollars entrusted to it for the support and conduct of this research. Approximately 82 percent of the investment is made through grants and contracts supporting research and training in more than 2,000 research institutions throughout the United States and abroad. In fact, NIH grantees are located in every state in the country. These grants and contracts make up the NIH Extramural Research Program.

Approximately 10 percent of the budget goes to NIH's Intramural Research Programs, the more than 2,000 projects conducted mainly in its own laboratories. These projects are central to the NIH scientific effort. First-rate intramural scientists collaborate with one another regardless of institute affiliation or scientific discipline and have the intellectual freedom to pursue their research leads in NIH's own laboratories. These explorations range from basic biology to behavioral research, to studies on treatment of major diseases.

Grant-Making Process

The grant-making process begins with an idea that an individual scientist describes in a written application for a research grant. The project might be small, or it might involve millions of dollars. The project might become useful immediately as a diagnostic test or new treatment, or it might involve studies of basic biological processes whose clinical value may not be apparent for many years.

Each research grant application undergoes peer review. A panel of scientific experts, primarily from outside the government, who are active and productive researchers in the biomedical sciences, first evaluates the scientific merit of the application. Then, a national advisory council or board, composed of eminent scientists as well as members of the public who are interested in health issues or the biomedical sciences, determines the project's overall merit and priority in advancing the research agenda of the particular NIH funding institutes.

About 38,500 research and training applications are reviewed annually through the NIH peer-review system. At any given time, NIH supports 35,000 grants in universities, medical schools, and other research and research training institutions, both nationally and internationally.

NIH Nobelists

The roster of people who have conducted NIH research or who have received NIH support over the years includes some of the world's most illustrious scientists and physicians. Among them are 115 winners of Nobel Prizes for achievements as diverse as deciphering the genetic code and identifying the causes of hepatitis.

Five Nobelists made their prize-winning discoveries in NIH laboratories. You can learn more about Nobelists who have received NIH support at

Impact on the Nation's Health

Through its research, NIH has played a major role in making possible many achievements over the past few decades, including

Science Education

Science education by NIH and its institutes contributes to ensuring the continued supply of well-trained basic research and clinical investigators, as well as the myriad professionals in the many allied disciplines who support the research enterprise. These efforts also help educate people about scientific results so that they can make informed decisions about their own—and the public's—health.

This curriculum supplement is one such science education effort, a collaboration among three partners: the NIH National Institute of Mental Health, the NIH Office of Science Education, and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

For more about NIH, visit its Web site at

About the National Institute of Mental Health

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one of the institutes that makes up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the largest scientific organization in the world dedicated to research focused on the understanding, treatment, and prevention of mental disorders and the promotion of mental health. The mission of NIMH is to reduce the burden of mental illness and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior.

The goals of NIMH become even more significant when you look at the occurrence of mental illnesses in our society. Mental disorders are widespread and affect people of all ages. Approximately 44 million Americans over the age of 18 and nearly one in five children will have a diagnosable mental disorder this year. Millions more will experience mental distress that diminishes quality of life, hinders academic achievement, and disrupts productivity on the job. Mental disorders represent 4 of the 10 leading causes of disability for persons age 5 and older. Among “developed” nations, including the United States, major depression is the leading cause of disability. Manic-depressive illness, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder rank near the top. Mental disorders contribute to mortality, with suicide representing one of the leading preventable causes of death in the United States and worldwide. Although mental illness problems can be highly disabling, they can be identified, diagnosed, and effectively treated.

NIMH strives to accomplish its mission in several ways. The NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, supports research about mental illnesses. This research encompasses the scientific fields of neuroscience, molecular genetics, behavioral science, and brain imaging, among others. The results of these fundamental scientific investigations pave the way for clinical studies to test new medications and psychosocial interventions. The goal of all of these studies is to understand the biology of the brain that underlies mental illness and to provide improved ways to treat or prevent mental illnesses.

Research supported by NIMH, conducted both at the NIH campus in Bethesda and at institutions around the country, investigates all aspects of mental illness. Some of the specific goals for NIMH research for the coming years include

NIMH also strives to make sure that treatment is responsive to the people who either have or are at risk for mental illness. The goal is to eliminate disparities in the availability of and access to high-quality mental health services. These disparities affect the mental health status of all Americans but impinge most greatly on members of ethnic or cultural minority groups, women, children, and elderly people.

Another way NIMH works to reduce the impact of mental illness on the public health is through education. Through its Web site, numerous publications, and this curriculum supplement, NIMH provides information to people who have questions about their own mental health or the health of a family member or friend.

Scientific progress and an informed public are powerful means of combating the stigma that is often attached to mental disorders. NIMH seeks to ensure that citizens have a clear understanding of mental disorders and to afford all people who have these illnesses the opportunity to receive timely, appropriate, and effective treatments.

For more information about NIMH, please visit the Web site at

View transcript for video | Download QuickTime player
closed-captioning iconClick this symbol on the video to view closed captioning