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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1996, Vol.16, No.3
100 Years of Leadership In Mental Health

By Sally R. McLain and Lynne Christensen




Charles Lambert in PI laboratory, 1906
In the late 19th century, Dr. Ira Van Gieson wrote these prophetic words: "In the past psychiatry was full of discouragement, the present is involved in a mass of uncertainty, but the future is full of hope."

Dr. Van Gieson, the first director of what today is the New York State Psychiatric Institute, commonly referred to as "PI," was obviously a forward-thinking man, because after 100 years, PI has an impressive portfolio of accomplishments with a bright future.

The year 1996 marks the 100th anniversary of PI. Its first century has been marked by some of the field's most noteworthy research achievements

From the beginning, PI has been a leading research institute committed to advancing the knowledge of mental diseases. The groundwork for its founding was laid in 1890 when New York State legislation placed all "chronically insane" individuals under the protection and care of the state.

In 1895, the president of the New York State Commission in Lunacy, Carlos F. McDonald, proposed the establishment of a central pathology laboratory to process and coordinate the pathology work of the state hospitals. The following year, Dr. Van Gieson changed the official designation from laboratory to institute and defined it as a center for multidisciplinary psychiatric research, making PI the first psychiatric research institute in the nation.

Dr. Van Gieson's vision was an institute for "the study of the causes and conditions that underlie mental disease." He also believed that scientific investigation of insanity was "an imperative necessity." During the course of 100 years and under 11 directors, PI has given that mandate historic proportions.

A Century of Discovery and Progress



New York State Psychiatric Institute circa 1960
In 1896, the original Pathological Institute rented offices on Madison Avenue in New York City. Under Dr. Adolph Meyer, the institute's second director, close ties were forged between the institute and the state hospital system. One of Dr. Meyer's first acts, in December 1902, was to move the institute to a building near the Manhattan State Hospital on Ward's Island.

Dr. Meyer also perceived the need for academic affiliation, which led to the formation of an advisory board whose members represented the medical schools of Columbia, Cornell, and Bellevue.

In 1907, the Pathological Institute was renamed the Psychiatric Institute, reflecting a new interest in improving patient care.

Upon his appointment as dean of P&S in 1919, Dr. William Darrach pushed the development of a unique idea in medical organization-the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center-which would bring many smaller specialty hospitals together with P&S and the Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Thomas W. Salmon, then professor of psychiatry, encouraged Dr. Darrach to include PI.

In 1925, the institute's director, Dr. George H. Kirby, signed an agreement with the new Columbia entity to build a new hospital and an institute.

PI relocated from Ward's Island to CPMC in 1929 and pledged to make the facilities available to staff and students of Columbia's medical college. Thus, PI became the headquarters of Columbia University's Department of Psychiatry.

PI has maintained its headquarters in the building erected in 1929 with one significant structural addition: In 1982, the new Lawrence C. Kolb Research Laboratory building was dedicated in honor of Dr. Kolb. Noteworthy advancements under Dr. Kolb's direction of PI, from 1954 to 1975, were social science research, the creation of Columbia University's Division of Community and Social Psychiatry, and the opening of the Lithium Clinic.


The new New York State Psychiatric Institute building will be six stories high and have 312,000 gross square feet. Two pedestrian bridges will span Riverside Drive and connect the building on the north to the Kolb Research Annex and on the south to the Milstein Hospital Building of the Presbyterian Hospital.

Leadership In Research

The New York State Psychiatric Institute is among the top institutions in terms of total dollars received from the federal government for medical research and is a leading recipient of grant money from the National Institute of Mental Health.



The original PI building on Ward's Island
PI's current director, Dr. John M. Oldham, works in close collaboration with Dr. Herbert Pardes, vice president for Health Sciences, dean of the Faculty of Medicine, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, and, from 1984 to 1989, director of PI. Together with Dr. Edward J. Sachar, director from 1975 to 1981, Drs. Pardes and Oldham ushered in a new era for PI.

Dr. Sachar placed renewed emphasis on biological research. He brought in Dr. Donald Klein, an expert in psychopharmacology, and Dr. David Shaffer, who was instrumental in expanding research in child psychiatry. Dr. Pardes saw the need to enhance research in the area of genetics to bring PI's research endeavors up-to-date with the rapid pace of development in that area. Application of molecular biology to psychiatric disorders gained momentum in the 1980s with the burgeoning field of genetics. Dr. Pardes strongly encouraged the participation of the institute in the Human Genome Project, and he recruited Dr. T. Conrad Gilliam, a molecular geneticist, to join PI.

Other major developments that occurred during Dr. Pardes' tenure as director were the establishment of the Memory Disorders Clinic and the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies. The latter, under the leadership of Dr. Anke A. Ehrhardt, was made possible by the largest grant award in NIMH history.

When Dr. Pardes became vice president and dean, Dr. Oldham assumed the leadership of PI. Dr. Oldham also serves as chief medical officer for the New York State Office of Mental Health and vice chairman of Columbia's psychiatry department.

To further augment the institute's research into the biology of mental illness, Dr. Oldham encouraged expansion of the neuroscience division. He invited Dr. J. John Mann to head the Department of Neuroscience, a combination of the formerly separate departments of neurochemistry, neuropathology, and brain imaging.

Together Dr. Pardes and Dr. Oldham made a commitment to strengthen research in schizophrenia, the most devastating of severe psychiatric illnesses. Because schizophrenia has been so resistant to understanding and treatment, research in the area had reached a plateau. New ways of examining the brain-genetically, structurally, and functionally-have now led scientists at PI and elsewhere to study the disorder with renewed potential for major progress.

Dr. Jack Gorman, deputy director of PI, put together a team of researchers and obtained NIMH support to establish a Developing Schizophrenia Research Center, a major new strength at the institute.

Collaborations between PI researchers in molecular and statistical genetics and researchers in Columbia's genetics, neurology, medicine, and pediatrics departments have led to the selection of Columbia and PI as a participating site in the national effort to map the human genome.

Other collaborative efforts between PI and Columbia have made possible comprehensive research projects in such areas as Alzheimer's disease, neuroimmunology, AIDS, brain injury, and the relationship between major mental illness and medical illness.

Another New Home for PI

To mark movement into its second century, PI will soon take residence in a new home, now under construction. To accommodate the existing and expanding leading-edge research of PI scientists, a commitment was made by New York State for the construction of a new modern institute. Construction on the new building began in 1993 and is expected to be completed late next year.

The new building on Riverside Drive represents another major milestone for PI, as it moves out of the antiquated 1929 building into a modern facility designed to accommodate research, inpatient and outpatient care, education, and administration.

Milestones in PI's History

Although it is impossible to chronicle every significant accomplishment achieved over the past 100 years at PI, what follows are some of the most notable:


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