Mental Health: The Great Unspoken Health Issue of Our Time

By Jeremy Farrar MD, Director, Wellcome Trust & Paul Stoffels, MD, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson

Today, we see an urgent need to tackle the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But there is another health issue which is rarely discussed, hidden in the shadows and stigmatised, but one which ruins lives and damages families, communities and society – the growing challenge of mental health globally.

Worldwide, an estimated billion suffer from anxiety, 300 million people are affected by depression, 60 million suffer from bipolar affective disorder, about 21 million are affected by schizophrenia or other severe psychoses and nearly 50 million people have dementia, a number that is expected to grow to 152 million in 2050 – a 204% increase. In addition, challenges such as lack of resources and trained healthcare providers, inaccurate assessment and social stigma compound the problem of effectively addressing the mental health epidemic.

While this urgent need is escalating, the science around mental health and brain diseases remains complex, and public and private funding for neuroscience research does not match the need nor the investment in other disease areas.

We are making significant advances in neuroscience and increasing understanding of the brain and brain disorders, but the growing prevalence of mental illness, particularly in young people, combined with rising rates of Alzheimer’s and gaps in research and care have the potential to create a global crisis.

The solution is disruptive innovation and international, open collaboration. And we don’t have to start from scratch. Science and technology offer us unprecedented opportunities.

To take advantage of the opportunities, we must work together to solve some key challenges. First is the need for an integrated approach, combining risk assessment and early diagnosis, disease interception and treatment, as well as supportive interventions.

Second, strong public-private partnerships between academia, biotech, industry, government, regulators, patient groups and civic society are key to spur progress in areas that include detecting at-risk individuals, harnessing “big data” and real-world evidence, developing innovative approaches to clinical trial design and drug development, as well as novel regulatory pathways to accelerate the innovations.

Finally, we must continue exploring innovative financing mechanisms to spur investment. With a global funding mechanism, we can work collaboratively, across borders and disciplines, to develop a platform and comprehensive approach to reduce the time, cost and risk of developing and evaluating treatments. 

We have enormous opportunity to harness the advances that today’s science and technology offer to bring forward game-changing innovation in mental health prevention, treatment and care. We are committed to focusing the world’s attention on this critical need and working together to revolutionize the way we think about, study and approach the development of solutions so that we can change the trajectory of mental illness all around the world.

The Wellcome Trust is committed to developing a better understanding of the brain and mind, and conditions such as dementia, depression and schizophrenia. 

Johnson & Johnson has a legacy spanning nearly six decades in bringing forward innovative solutions for mental health challenges. Janssen pharmaceutical companies of Johnson & Johnson has discovered, developed and launched many innovative treatments for brain and central nervous system conditions and remains firmly committed to neuroscience. Janssen supports public and professional education about mental illness and brain disorders, and funds sponsorships and philanthropy in the field of neuroscience and mental health.

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