Humbling Reminders of the Unmet Need in Mental Healthcare

A career in mental health breeds a big dose of humility. Psychiatric disorders are fierce opponents, countless in sub-variety, symptom, and root cause.  As much time and money as companies like Lundbeck and our government and academic research partners have dedicated to understanding and managing these diseases, we are constantly reminded that we are only in the early stages of a multi-generational effort to identify and develop the array of treatments necessary to deal with these sophisticated and highly heterogeneous disorders.

Another of these reminders struck recently when Lundbeck received the results of the Living with MDD survey that we conducted with Otsuka Pharmaceutical and Harris Poll last year.

The survey, which polled 300 U.S. adults living with major depressive disorder (MDD) and have been on an anti-depressant in the last year, as well as 150 psychiatrists and 152 primary care physicians, revealed that while we should be proud of the number of people who have found help in living productively with their disease, far too many people are still feeling highly symptomatic and struggling for more and better options. For instance, while 90 percent of survey respondents said that they take their medicine as prescribed, nearly two-thirds (61 percent) said they still experience MDD symptoms at least once a week. These symptoms – which can do anything from cause lethargy to restlessness to an inability to focus or remember details – take a major, measurable toll on lives: On average, survey respondents report taking two sick days from work or school every month. While this survey was conducted in the U.S., from my experience, this reality is being felt worldwide.

This gulf of remaining unmet need is why physicians are not only frequently tinkering with how they prescribe anti-depressants (70% of psychiatrists and 54% of primary care physicians report changing their patients’ medication at least once a year), but are also overwhelmingly calling for further research and development: 73% of psychiatrists and 54% of primary care physicians agree that there are not sufficient medication options that work well enough to relieve their patients’ symptoms of MDD.

We are living in a time of increasingly competing healthcare demands and priorities. As people live longer, we are confronted with the need to treat and manage many chronic diseases, all while curtailing healthcare costs. While this is a challenge, we can’t lose sight of the attention, investment, and public health leadership that depression requires. In the United States alone, there are approximately 15 million adults living with MDD. For reference, that’s enough to sell out the next eight seasons of Real Madrid home soccer matches without anyone ever showing up at the stadium twice. Of those 15 million, sadly, only a fraction is living symptom free. While it’s thrilling to know that we’re making a difference one individual patient at a time, we have to come to agree that improving treatments for people with depression is a global imperative, and we need to attack it with twice the passion, energy and effort that have gotten us to where we are today.

The millions of people searching for solutions are not merely numbers or abstract figures. They’re your colleague who is struggling to make it into work, your friend who can’t sleep – or can’t stop sleeping – or your loved one who has lost interest in basic pleasures. We know that just because they’re taking medication doesn’t mean they’re living symptom free. There is a lot of hard work behind us, and far more ahead. As we continue on our journey, I hope we continue to attract more people to roll up their sleeves and join our cause.


Video: No Stone Unturned in Mental Health Research
By Doug Williamson, MD
In this video, Dr. Doug Williamson, Lundbeck's Chief Medical Officer and VP of US Medical, discusses putting patients at the center of drug R&D and how Lundbeck is leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of new treatment options.