This month, we are featuring a Q&A with Cheryl King, Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychology. King served on the National Institute of Health's National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC).
What advisory committee did you serve on? How did you get appointed to the committee, and what was your term of service?
I served on the National Advisory Mental Health Council (NAMHC) from January 2018 to February 2022. This was a 3-year term of service as a voting member (I became a voting member later in 2018 following the federal clearance process; my term was also extended a bit as there were delays in getting federal clearance for incoming members).
Given my history of contributions as a clinical scientist and educator focused on suicide prevention, and likely my history of highly programmatic National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)-funded research related to suicide prevention, I was invited to speak to the NAMHC in February of 2017 on the topic, “Suicide Prevention: Selected Opportunities for Impact.” Following my talk and discussion with NAMHC members, Dr. Gordan, Director of NIMH, walked out with me and noted that he would be in touch with me regarding further involvement with the NAMHC. I received a formal invitation to join the NAMHC within the next several months.
How did you learn about this opportunity and what factors made you decide to serve?
As a professor and clinical scientist with a sustained history of NIMH funding, I was aware of the NAMHC (“Council” or NIMH Council) as the final body that met and needed to give a stamp of approval for the NIMH funding of research projects several times a year (following the scientific reviews). I learned more about the NAMHC when I attended the meeting as a guest speaker in 2017. This is when I came to appreciate that Council members also had input into strategic planning related to mental health research and research training. I have a strong interest in public policy, public health, and bigger picture issues related to clinical science. I saw this as a great opportunity to serve as it aligned extremely well with my strengths and interests.
Please explain your role and/or a specific issue that you worked on.
My specialty expertise aligns with my training and experience as a Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist and as Director of the Youth Depression and Suicide Prevention Research Program in the Department of Psychiatry, Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan. On the NAMHC, I was most often assigned to review Concept Proposals (i.e., new possible research priorities) and grants that aligned with my expertise in suicide prevention research. Suicide prevention is one primary focus of the NIMH at this time. However, I also had input into other areas related to screening, assessment, intervention and services in child and adolescent mental health.
What was the time commitment to serving on the committee? Was your experience on the committee what you expected?
The time commitment to serving on the NAMHC was intermittent. Prior to the COVID pandemic, the NAMHC met in Washington D.C. three times per year – Winter, Spring, and Fall – for one-day meetings. Since the pandemic began, these have been two, ½ day virtual meetings three times per year. These meetings each required one to two days of preparation in addition to participation at the meetings. There were also other review requests intermittently during each year of membership.
How did your research experience and expertise bring value to the committee?
Expertise and experience as a clinical scientist and programmatic NIH-funded were essential to my role on the NAMHC. The Council requires high level perspective/strategic planning, focused expertise on many specific issues, and an understanding of research funding, research training, and the process of conducting research. My expertise in suicide-related research, child and adolescent mental health, and intervention science brought value to the committee.
Would you recommend that your colleagues seek out similar opportunities? How do you think this experience will strengthen your career or ability to be successful in the future?
Yes, definitely! It’s a wonderful opportunity to contribute, and it’s extremely rewarding to participate as a member of such an accomplished and invested group of people. As a scientist, it’s also a great opportunity to move from the highly focused work in one area of expertise to seeing what’s happening with mental health research across all areas, all age groups, all types of scientific investigation – from basic neuroscience research to work aimed at understanding how to improve treatment access.
This experience definitely strengthened my understanding of NIMH and the research funding process. It can only be helpful going forward.