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NRC Workshop Discusses Changing Social Norms

The National Research Council’s Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Norms held its first workshop on March 18, “Lessons Learned from Diverse Efforts to Change Social Norms.” The project, which is housed within the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, is co-sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The committee is charged with helping SAMHSA “implement strategies that improve attitudes and beliefs about mental and substance use disorders.”

Sessions focused on messaging strategies, methods for communications efforts, big-picture looks at social change, and case studies, with speakers discussing lessons learned from past efforts to educate and reduce negative attitudes toward mental illness, HIV/AIDS, and epilepsy; prevent bullying of gay and lesbian teens; and decrease tobacco use in youth. Common themes of the presentations included the importance of building evaluation into campaigns from the start, tailoring the message and strategy to the habits of the target population, and having the flexibility to adapt efforts to changing environments.

The webcast and slides will be made available on the committee’s website. A follow-up workshop, on “Opportunities and Strategies to Promote Behavior Change in Behavioral Health,” is planned for April 15.

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Posted in Issue 5 (March 24), Update, Volume 34 (2015)

Aging and Mental Health Institutes Seek Comments on Draft Strategic Plans

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are seeking public comment on the development of the Institutes’ strategic plans. The plans will guide the Institutes’ research priorities.

National Institute on Aging

The NIA recently released a request for information (RFI) seeking guidance on its strategic plan, Aging Well in the 21st Century: Strategic Directions for Research on Aging. The draft plan outlines NIA’s broad strategic directions for the Institute and “provides a point of reference for setting priorities and a framework for systematically analyzing the Institute’s scientific portfolio and assessing progress.” Its goals falls into three categories: understanding the dynamics of the aging process; improving health, well-being, and independence of adults as they age; and supporting the research enterprise.

The goals include:

  1. Better understand the biology of gaining and its impact on prevention, progression, and prognosis of disease and disability.
  2. Better understand the effects of personal and societal factors on aging, including the mechanisms through which these factors exert their effects.
  3. Develop effective interventions to maintain health and function and prevent or reduce the burden of age-related diseases, disorders, and disabilities.
  4. Improve our understanding of the aging brain, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Develop interventions to address Alzheimer’s and other age-related neurological conditions.
  5. Improve our understanding of the consequences of an aging society to inform intervention development and policy decisions.
  6. Understand health differences and develop strategies to improve the health status of older adults in diverse populations
  7. Support the infrastructure and resources needed to promote high quality research.
  8. Disseminate information to the public, medical and scientific communities, and policy makers about research and interventions.

Specifically, NIA would like feedback regarding (1) research needs and opportunities that should be added to the plan and (2) emerging research needs and future opportunities that should be included in the plan.

Responses will be accepted until December 15, 2014 and must be submitted via email to the NIA Office of Planning, Analysis and Evaluation at niaplanning@nia.nih.gov.

National Institute of Mental Health

The National Institute of Mental Health’s revised Strategic Plan is intended to guide its priorities from 2015–2020. Accordingly, NIMH is inviting public comment and is specifically interested in receiving ideas for “scientific advancements, new technical capabilities or tools, or major challenge topics that promise substantial change to mental health research if pursued.” NIMH is the largest funding agency for mental health research.

In his message, NIMH director Tom Insel notes “that some scientists reject the concept of ‘directed science,’ believing that science rarely follows a plan.” Conversely, Insel noted, a strategic plan “can identify the most important problems and identify areas of traction.”

The 2015–2020 plan revises the original four high-level Strategic Objectives which are intended to serve as a “broad roadmap” for NIMH’s priorities.

These objectives include:

  1. Define the biological basis of complex behaviors;
  2. Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene;
  3. Strive for prevention and cures; and
  4. Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research.

According to the revised draft plan, the Institute’s funding strategy is “to support a broad spectrum of investigator-initiated research in fundamental science, with increasing use of Institute-solicited initiatives for applied research where public health impact is a short-term measure of success.”

The revised plan also includes cross-cutting themes that are relevant to each of the objectives. These themes include: transforming diagnostics, accelerating therapeutics, the growing digital enterprise, transforming the trajectory of mental illnesses through preemptive medicine, global mental health, mental health disparities, partnerships, and training future research scientists.

Responses to the draft plan are due by December 11, 2014and can be submitted to: NIMHSTRATPLAN@mail.nih.gov. Additional information is available here.

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Posted in Issue 21 (November 17), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

NCHS Brief Looks at Depression and Obesity

A new data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) examines the relationship between obesity and depression. It found that 43 percent of adults with depression were obese and that adults with depression were more likely to be obese, particularly women. In addition, as the severity of depression symptoms increased, so did the proportion of those with obesity. And over half of people whose symptoms were not relieved by medication were obese. The report observes, “It is not clear whether depression or obesity occurred first because they were both measured at the same time. Other studies have shown a bidirectional relationship, meaning obesity increases risk of depression and depression increases risk of obesity.” The data is drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005-2010.

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Posted in Issue 19 (October 20), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

House Subcommittee Discusses Suicide Prevention and Treatment

On September 18, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing, “Suicide Prevention and Treatment: Helping Loved Ones in Mental Health Crisis.” Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), a psychologist, explained that the hearing was an attempt to “take the conversation about suicide out of the dark shadow of stigma and into the bright light of truth and hope. Suicide is the deadly outcome of mental illness. Suicide is when depression kills. Suicide is an epidemic and its impact is staggering.” (more…)

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Posted in Issue 17 (September 22), Update, Volume 33 (2014)

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