The U.S. Needs a “Moonshot for Mental Health” Petition Advocates for U.S. Federal Mental Health Research Funding

Photo by Marcel Strauß on Unsplash

Current U.S. federal funding of mental health clinical research is insufficient to allow for major advances in the diagnosis, treatment, and reduction in deaths due to mental illness in the United States. The National Institutes of Mental Health requested $1.54 billion in research funding for Fiscal Year 2022. In 2018, The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data found:

  • 19.1 percent of adults ages 18 and older had any mental illness in the past year (47.6 million)
  • 4.6 percent (11.4 million) of adults had serious mental illness

2022 National Institutes of Mental Health research funding request is equal to approximately $32 for each adult reporting a mental illness in the United States.

U.S. federal medical research funding is important for early-stage clinical research, according to a 2015 Special Communication from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network. Medical research in the United States totaled $117B in 2012, 58% of which was funded by private industry. The authors noted that:

“Industry reduced early-stage research, favoring medical devices, bioengineered drugs, and late-stage clinical trials, particularly for cancer and rare diseases. National Institutes of Health allocations correlate imperfectly with disease burden, with cancer and HIV/AIDS receiving disproportionate support.”

The United States federal government has been funding cancer research since the enactment of the National Cancer Act of 1937 and has continued to increase funding over several decades. The latest funding increase, through the 21st Century Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016, was dubbed a “Cancer Moonshot” that added an additional $1.8B over a seven-year period for cancer research. Federal funding for the National Cancer Institute in FY2019 totaled $6.1B, to treat an estimated 5.1 million people who were diagnosed with cancer from January 2013 to January 2017 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal research funding is equal to $1,196 per person diagnosed with cancer over a five-year period.

Research funding has made a difference in the lives of those cancer patients. Per the American Cancer Society:

“The death rate from cancer in the US declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded.”

Adults aged 18 years or older in the United States with mental illnesses have not fared as well. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, in 2020, there were an estimated 52.9 million adults (21% of all U.S. adults) aged 18 or older in the United States who reported Any Mental Illness (AMI). This was an increase from 2018, when 19.1 percent reported AMI. An estimated 14.2 million adults reported having Serious Mental Illness in 2020, 5.6% of all U.S. adults, also an increase from 2018.

Clearly, more funds need to be appropriated for medical research into the causes and treatment of mental illnesses. The Cure Brain Disease Coalition, has started a Moonshot for Mental Health Petition, to ask for additional federal funding for basic research to include: biological, genetic (inherited), and epigenetic processes. Epigenetic processes are environmental effects, including biochemicals (e.g. hormones), chemicals and diseases (viral/bacterial), that impact gene activation/deactivation. The purpose of this basic research would be to identify biomarkers as alternatives for diagnosis of serious mental conditions, and to provide information leading to novel targeted treatments and curative therapies for serious mental conditions. The intent of the funding request is NOT to support the creation of databases including individuals’ DNA profiles.

The time is now to ask for a more equitable distribution of medical research funding.



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