An organization established to make Arizona a hub for mental health research has begun its first major recruitment and research efforts with job postings in scientific journals and 10 new research grants of up to $25,000 each.
"We have plenty of buildings, but not enough researchers," said Cyd West, chief executive officer of the Institute for Mental Health Research. "We really need to grow what we have here."
The institute, which started in 2001 with $2.5 million from the Legislature and matching grants from the private sector, grew from efforts to improve Arizona’s dismal standing in mental health services and funding.
That standing has improved with better services for those with a serious mental illness, but the goal of creating a research hub will take more work, said Roger Hughes, executive director of St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, which has donated money to the institute.
Research facilities are available through the institute’s partnerships with entities including Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
Bringing people in, however, is the costly and timeconsuming part — especially in the beginning, when an area is not yet a magnet for mental health research.
"The vision is to assemble in one place in Arizona some of the best researchers in mental health research," said Hughes, a member of the institute’s advisory steering committee. "It just takes time to recruit people."
The institute is also trying to foster entrepreneurial ideas through small, one -year research grants. The call for grant applications is part of a pilot study focusing on child and adolescent mental health, brain disease and injury, schizophrenia and depression.
The institute is focusing on areas in mental health that need more research. Studies of childhood autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders and bipolar disorders are a priority because they lag behind similar research in adults, according to the institute.
Problems with movement, speech and the senses often occur from stroke, head trauma, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
But the institute plans to target funding toward research into the psychiatric consequences of brain injuries and diseases, including changes in mood, personality, thinking and the ability to experience pleasure. Schizophrenia, which accounts for more days in a hospital bed than any other mental illness, is another research focus, as well as depression, which affects about 10 percent of the population.
"It’s such a fertile field because we’re learning more and more about the brain," Hughes said.
In January 2003, the institute recruited its first scientist, Dr. Jaswinder Ghuman, a child psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins University.
Ghuman is studying autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the University of Arizona. West said she would like the institute to recruit two or three more researchers in the next year.
"The first few are the hardest ones to bring in," West said.
The effort can be expensive, too, costing as much as $1 million in the first five years for laboratory equipment, salary and other expenses.
Located at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix and at the University of Arizona, the institute has raised $2.1 million from the private sector and sponsored two mental health conferences. In November, the institute is sponsoring a women’s mental health symposium in Phoenix.