A Moment Poised for Breakthrough in Mental Health
Mental illnesses afflict people in a terribly complicated web of ways, and achieving a breakthrough in how we care for those individuals requires a perfect storm. To make major progress, it takes a swell of public support, fresh research insights that provide direction, public and private entities willing to invest resources, and a political will to get it done. For long stretches, many elements of this equation are missing, and we are left frustrated with half-solutions. Right now, however, it feels like we’re in the midst of one of the moments where significant reform is truly possible.
Whether born out of public debate or personal struggle, from John Oliver to Demi Lovato to Patrick Kennedy, in the last months alone a slew of highly influential public figures have come forward and spoken powerfully on behalf of people suffering from mental illnesses. I applaud their courage and effort, which comes at a ripe moment as 2015 has also seen the release of data from some of the most complete, important, and actionable mental health studies ever conducted. In schizophrenia alone, researchers have recently released the findings of two essential studies: the “Recovery After an Initial Episode” (RAISE) project funded by the National Institute of Health, and the “Premature Mortality Among Adults with Schizophrenia in the United States” article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
While both these studies offer incredible depths of insights, ultimately, they support a similar conclusion: In schizophrenia, as in any mental illness, there is no exact calculus or single perfect solution. Each patient is unique and making progress requires support early, often, and from many angles. We need to reform the way that we approach mental healthcare so that we are delivering not only the right blend of therapies to people who need them, but also surrounding them with community-based support systems.
That’s why I’m very proud of Lundbeck’s involvement in the Connect 4 Mental Health initiative, and its “Community Innovation Awards.” Connect 4 Mental Health is a nationwide initiative that tries to bring key pillars in our communities such as law enforcement, public housing, and emergency services into the fight against mental illnesses. This year, the initiative awarded grants to four locally-focused organizations (Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky & Southwest Ohio, NAMI San Diego, NAMI Cleveland, and the Jefferson Center for Mental Health) for programs such as:
- A Tech CAFÉ that empowers individuals with mental illnesses and allows them greater independence by increasing their tech literacy so that they can access health information online
- An Emotional Wellness Program to support, connect, and nurture high-poverty public housing residents with mental illnesses who have experienced long lapses in treatment
- A fully integrated health care home that offers adults with serious mental illnesses psychiatric and mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, primary care, wellness services, and peer health coaching under one roof
- A Tri-State Mental Health First Aid Hub, which oversees a multi-state initiative to improve mental health literacy, reduce stigma and provide early identification and intervention
It is very heartening to see political, public, and research agendas coalescing to create such potential for immediate and significant advancement. With eyes, ears, and hearts focused on these issues, significant scientific progress on the near horizon, and legislation introduced in both Houses of Congress (the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646 championed by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa) and the Mental Health Reform Act of 2015, introduced by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut and Republican Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana), I hope that the progress of the last few months is only a prelude to major breakthroughs yet to come.
If you want to lend your support to the effort to reform mental healthcare, I recommend visiting Mental Health America, where you can learn more about current legislation and sign up to receive volunteer information.