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The Mental Health Research Institute of the University of Michigan (UM) has been an interdisciplinary research institute, which played a key role in the development of general systems theory. The institute was established in 1955 with the goal of "applying scientific methods to the study of human behavior" . Over the years it sharpened its interdisciplinary focus on neuroscience and biological psychiatry. The Institute is recently renamed to Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI).
In its 40 years of existence, the Mental Health Research Institute has pioneered many research methods and approaches. By 1995, research at the MHRI had helped bring about a revolution in how mental illness was seen. The institute was a neuroscience pioneer, using basic research to uncover the biological underpinnings of mental illness. Today, schizophrenia is no longer viewed as a disease caused by bad mothers, but as the manifestation of a "broken" brain, just as diabetes is a result of a "broken" pancreas.
At the end of the 19th century, Americans with mental illness were not so much diagnosed and treated as managed and sheltered. People with schizophrenia, alcoholism and depression were housed alongside people with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and “feeblemindedness.” In the 1950s the theories of Sigmund Freud held American psychiatry in thrall, and researchers were looking for ways to put a stop to the misery of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. And against the backdrop of the recent horrors of World War II, the mental health of entire societies was of concern. In 1955, Raymond Waggoner, chairman of the UM psychiatry department, convinced the State of Michigan to provide $175,000 to create the Mental Health Research Institute (MHRI) at the University of Michigan to conduct basic research on mental health.
Raymond Waggoner kept an open mind on the causes of mental illness, and believed that basic research offered the best opportunity for progress because it could lead in so many directions. He recruited an interdisciplinary group to the MHRI with the goal of "applying scientific methods to the study of human behavior, normal and abnormal." It was James Grier Miller, the founding director of the institute, who accepted the invitation of Waggoner to establish an interdisciplinary institute dedicated to the behavioral sciences, an advanced concept at the time.
Since 1957 when the MHRI employed 40 people and had a state appropriation of $300,000, the institute has grown to its current group of 18 senior scientists, with 136 technical and administrative staff. The budget is now more than $7 million from state, federal, and private sources of support.
The broad nature of the Mental Health Research Institute was reflected in the disciplines represented by its members, who came from diverse University units that included the Law School and the Departments of Political Science, Psychology, Biological Chemistry, Sociology, Urban Planning and Psychiatry. The Institute's staff included biologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and political scientists.
From the beginning there was a group of interdisciplinary researchers participating in the institute. James G. Miller, a psychologist and medical doctor, would later write the large book, Living Systems. Also at MHRI were Anatol Rapoport, a well‑known mathematician and game theorist, and Kenneth Boulding, a well‑known economist and widely‑read author. And another colleague was John Platt, a physicist who wrote a number of essays on science policy, the urban planner Richard L. Meier who wrote about Science and Economic Development, Walter Cannon, and Ralph Gerard, an eminent neurophysiologist, credited with the discovery of the microelectrode.
General Systems Theory
The University of Michigan’s Mental Health Research Institute (MHRI) has been a key location for the development of general systems theory. The General Systems yearbook of the Society for General Systems Research (SGSR) was based there for many years. A mental health research institute may seem a peculiar place to find systems theory. However, in the 1950's, there was money available for mental health research, and the justification given to funding agencies was that if people could learn to think comprehensively about their interactions with each other and the environment, then their mental health would improve.
Only one of the founders of the Society for General Systems Research was not associated with The Institute, Ludwig Von Bertalanffy. Other systems scientist who were involved were Margaret Mead and Richard F. Ericson. A next generation of system theorists like Skip Porter, Len R. Troncale, and Terry Oliva, were strongly influenced by the work at MHRI.
Through the years, the interdisciplinary focus of research has narrowed. James Grier Miller, the first MHRI director, envisioned it as a place to study all levels of phenomena relating to mental health-from the cell, organ, individual, and group to society. Gardner Quarton, recruited as director in 1968, continued the diverse approaches to research on mental health, and favored studies with links to clinical work in psychiatry. Over the next decade, as neuroscience made inroads in understanding the workings of the brain, the institute became increasingly involved in "wet lab" activities.
In 1983 the new director Bernard Agranoff, renowned researcher on the biochemical basis of memory formation, has continued to sharpen the institute's focus on molecular neuroscience. The emphasis on the molecular underpinnings of brain function has spurred MHRI collaborations among an array of scientists from traditional academic disciplines-geneticists, biochemists, anatomists, physiologists, pharmacologists, as well as clinical investigators. Psychologists at the institute continue to pursue behavioral themes with interests in logic, games, and computers.
Toward biological research and treatment
At the University of Michigan Albert Silverman, Waggoner’s successor as department chair from 1970-81, oversaw the increasing move toward biological research and treatment. In tandem with Gardner Quarton, M.D., director of the Mental Health Research Institute, a number of internationally leading investigators were recruited. Since taking the helm of the department in 1985, John Greden, M.D., has worked tirelessly to integrate and translate neuroscience and behavioral science advances. A new University of Michigan Depression Center is a place where behavioral scientists, neuroscientists, clinical investigators and multidisciplinary leaders from other schools and departments across campus, such as Nursing, Public Health, Pharmacy, Social Work and Psychology, come together to share information, collaborate on research, and offer patients the most up-to-date and comprehensive treatments available.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Stuart A. Umpleby and Eric B. Dent (1999). "The Origins and Purposes of Several Traditions in Systems Theory and Cybernetics". In: Cybernetics and Systems: An International Journal, 30:79-103, 1999.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "MHRI Turns 40". In: Research news. University of Michigan 1995, retrieved online: 2009-05-19
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Whitley Hill with Laura Hirshbein (2006). "A Century of Improving Mental Health Care at Michigan" at www.medicineatmichigan.org. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Bernard Agranoff (2003). U-M Mental Health Research Institute Founder James Miller Is Dead at 86. on www.medicineatmichigan.org. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Website. The Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (MBNI) of the University of Michigan. The formerly Mental Health Research Institute.
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