The mission of the Department of Mental Health is to advance understanding of mental and behavioral disorders, to develop, implement, and evaluate methods to prevent and control these disorders, and to promote mental health in the population.
The Department of Mental Health is the first and the only department-level unit in a school of public health. The formal charter in 1961 under Dr. Paul Lemkau developed directly from an unusual pairing at Johns Hopkins in 1907 between Dr. Adolf Meyer, a skilled, pragmatic psychiatrist, and Clifford Beers, who, in his memoirs of his own harsh experiences as a patient, crusaded against crude, institutional treatment of mental illness. Together, they made a powerful, visionary pair who elevated the level of public discourse about the etiology and treatment of mental disorders.
Meyer believed that mental disorders occurred in the context of brain physiology and in one’s home and social environment, and that review of the individual’s life story and social environment could provide critical clues as to the treatment and community-based prevention of psychiatric disorders.
To learn more, please see the article "Origins of Mental Health," written by Dr. Wallace Mandell in 1995 during his tenure as Department Chair, and discover how these two men developed their mission over the ensuing years while physicians, psychologists and epidemiologists were working together to develop research methods and educational materials not only for the examination of conditions in the community, such as family, education, employment and economics, but also for conditions inside the body—such as neurological disturbances and genetic influences—that serve as risk factors for mental disorders.
In addition, “History of the Department of Mental Health” (2013) by Karen Kruse Thomas, PhD, historian at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, traces the history of the Department from its early years through several distinct areas of concentration over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, including the pivotal role the Department played in developing “health policy that firmly established mental health as both a central concern of public health practice and a legitimate focus of research within NIH.”