We Must Work Together to Lessen the Toll of Mental Illness

Guest Contributor
Guest Contributor October 8, 2014

We Must Work Together to Lessen the Toll of Mental Illness.

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Mental Illness Awareness Week, which takes place the first full week of October, is an opportunity to raise awareness of mental illness and make progress in eliminating stigmas that discourage people from seeking care and support.  In the guest commentary below, Husseini K. Manji, MD, FRCPC, Global Head of Neuroscience for Janssen Research & Development LLC, a Johnson & Johnson Company, addresses the significant toll of mental illness.

Husseini-ManjiDr. Manji, who previously served as Head of the Mood Disorders Laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health, also discusses the importance of both continued research and development of new therapies and access to treatments by the individuals who need them.

As we pause to recognize Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s take a closer look at the societal and economic costs of mental illnesses, which are among the world’s most devastating, complex and expensive diseases.

It’s estimated that one in four adults−approximately 61.5 million Americans−experiences mental illness in a given year. One in 17−about 13.6 million−live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. These common illnesses have a bigger negative impact on the world economy than HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or cancer, in part because they rob people of their ability to function adequately during what should be their most productive years. As a result, they also exact a tremendous toll on caregivers.

Societal failure to adequately address these common illnesses has had extraordinary economic consequences. In 2010, mental illnesses cost the world about $2.5 trillion. By 2030, the World Economic Forum estimates the cost will be more than $16 trillion.

Significant societal costs have accompanied these economic ones. While mental illness is universally acknowledged to be a devastating experience, compassion for people with brain disorders has been limited. Expressions of empathy have not resulted in improved access to medical care, shorter waiting lists, or fewer denials for treatment.

Discrimination is common, exacerbated by the stigmas associated with mental illness. Furthermore, three times as many mentally ill people are incarcerated as are hospitalized. And only 11 percent of those addicted to drugs or alcohol have access to treatment. Finally, mental illnesses are linked strongly with suicide risk. Sadly, in the U.S. alone, as many as 38,000 people die from suicide every year, a rate higher than most forms of cancer.

Helping the mentally ill is not simply the right thing to do, it is also the cost–effective thing to do. It would improve the workforce, save money, save lives and, most importantly, improve society as a whole.

Here is what needs to be done:

1.  Further Increase Collaboration

All areas of research need not be proprietary. From the development of semi-conductors to particle physics, some industries have developed a tradition of pooling knowledge. And health care is no exception. Pharmaceutical companies, private and public foundations, and governments must continue to coordinate efforts to advance scientific research regarding mental illnesses.  More collaboration will be of vital importance to realize the future advances we can bring to patients the world over.  We also need enlightened public policies that further foster public-private partnerships.  Working together benefits humanity and commerce alike.

2. Ensure Access to Treatment
The U.S. Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 was a major milestone in addressing a major injustice in treating mental illness. However, more needs to be done to ensure that all individuals with mental illness have access to and coverage for needed treatment. Adding to this sense of urgency is the steady tide of veterans returning from overseas, some of whom will need treatment for mental illness, including Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder.
3. Increase Budgets for Research
It’s vitally important that research in neuroscience continues to be funded. Federal budgets for brain research have stagnated despite considerable advances in neuroscience. The budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is $2.6 billion less than it was four years ago. This hurts our economy and delays life–saving research for millions.  It also will be important for the pharmaceutical industry to continue its own basic research and translational science to bring forth innovative medicines that benefit patients.
Ultimately, triumph over serious mental disorders cannot be defined as just helping people feel better. We must be committed to working together, funding research, addressing injustice, and enabling people with mental illness to resume the meaningful work and social activities that make up daily life. This is important for all of society, now and in the future.

Janssen’s Commitment to Mental Health

Janssen has discovered and developed innovative treatments for mental illness for more than 50 years. We continue to develop new approaches to treat schizophrenia, serious mood disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Our interests include programs aimed at the discovery and development of novel medicines, as well as new biomarkers and companion diagnostics to drive earlier and more accurate diagnosis, treatment response and outcome prediction. To learn more, please visit http://neuroscience.janssenrnd.com

In 2011, Janssen launched Healthy Minds, a comprehensive initiative that aims to encourage collaboration among biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and public-sector partners to accelerate the discovery of new therapeutic solutions for diseases and disorders of the brain. Part of the Healthy Minds effort includes a series of videos on the Johnson & Johnson You Tube Channel featuring Dr. Manji discussing brain disorders and treatments for them.

Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others to share their perspectives and point of view. Like in our Conversations series, views represented here may not be those of PhRMA, though they are no less key to a healthy dialogue on issues in health care today. 

Topics: PhRMA Member Company, Mental Illness