Mental disorders cause more disability than any other class of medical illness in Americans between ages 15 and 44 years. The suicide rate is higher than the annual mortality from homicide, AIDS, and most forms of cancer. In contrast to nearly all communicable and most non-communicable diseases, there is little evidence that the morbidity and mortality from mental disorders have changed in the past several decades. Mental health advocates, including psychiatric researchers, have pointed to stigma as one of the reasons for the lack of progress with mental illnesses relative to other medical illnesses. This review considers how the expectations and goals of the research community have contributed to this relative lack of progress. In contrast to researchers in cancer and heart disease who have sought cures and preventions, biological psychiatrists in both academia and industry have set their sights on incremental and marketable advances, such as drugs with fewer adverse effects. This essay argues for approaches that can lead to cures and strategies for prevention of schizophrenia and mood disorders.