Topics of Interest

Genetics and Biology

One of the most exciting and challenging areas of research is in genetics. Mental health conditions are complex and believed to involve more than a single gene. Current research indicates that for a person to develop a condition like schizophrenia, an unknown number of genes may be involved. Improving our understanding of this complicated pattern requires scientists to study and analyze genomes (maps of our genes) from willing donors to see if patterns emerge.

In addition to genetics, many researchers are focused on exploring “biomarkers” for mental health conditions. A biomarker is something measurable that can act as a signal for something else. For example, specific types of protein in a person’s blood can signal problems with the heart muscle. Currently, scientists are looking for biomarkers for mental illnesses – but this also requires complex analysis of samples from willing donors. 

Mental health research involving genetics and biology is very strictly regulated. Researchers must provide strong protections for participant privacy and data security according to federal laws. The National Institutes of Health, among other organizations, works to make sure researchers can do their important scientific work without putting volunteers at risk. 


Health Services and Society

Not all research in the field of mental health is on biology or brain science. Many researchers also study the ways that people with mental health conditions interact with their families, with their doctors, and with their communities. This research is focused on finding scientifically-proven ways to make sure that people with mental health conditions can live their lives in the most fulfilling way possible. It helps us to design better tools for therapy and symptom management, better training programs for clinical workers, and better policies for using resources in the community.

  • In SHAPE teaches healthy living skills in a unique community setting, leading to physical and mental benefits for adults with SMI.
  • FOCUS Smartphone App utilizes personal technology to support self-management of some schizophrenia symptoms.
  • Links to Learning trains local advocate networks to support teachers and parents of children with disruptive behavior disorders in urban, low-resource communities.


NAMI-Supported Studies

NAMI does not conduct research directly, but we often support researchers whose work is well-aligned with our advocacy mission.

  • On Pins & Needles takes a close look at caregivers: people who act as regular unpaid care providers for an adult with a moderate-to-significant mental health condition. Most research focuses on individuals who experience mental health conditions or on providers, so this study fills in a very important knowledge gap. This study was conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving with support from Mental Health America and NAMI.
  • Seeking Treatment in an Emergency Department During a Psychiatric Emergency describes the experiences of individuals who experience mental health conditions and their family members during an intensely stressful time. This study collected information from several thousand people to identify the most important factors that can make an ED encounter better or worse. This information can help us educate healthcare providers on how to improve care in the future.