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By Paul Stoffels, Vice Chair of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson. Dr. Stoffels is speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 on Mental Health and Alzheimer’s Disease

Mental health and brain disorders are increasingly prevalent. Suicide and depression affect people who may appear “healthy”, as evidenced by several tragic high profile suicides in 2018. Worldwide, anxiety affects one billion people. Nearly a third of that figure suffer depression, 60 million suffer bipolar affective disorder and a further 21 million have schizophrenia or other severe psychoses. Additionally, dementia — already a widespread condition — is expected to impact more than 150 million people 30 years from now.

The biology of these challenges is complex. Although neuroscience is advancing, the speed of progress is limited by public and private investment that lags behind that in other less prevalent disease areas. Meanwhile, inaccurate assessment, social stigma and a limited number of trained healthcare providers compound the inability to address the mental health epidemic effectively. To solve these challenges, we need even greater international coordination and collaboration to help drive innovation at the same speed and scale as we did in epidemic disease.

It’s encouraging that mental health tops the World Economic Forum healthcare agenda at the 2019 Annual Meeting. We’re looking forward to working in partnership with other leaders to bring forward new solutions. Together we need to tackle this issue on the following three fronts.

Innovative financing mechanisms can help trigger 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.

New public-private partnerships to tackle brain science
A more integrated research approach that combines disease risk assessment, early diagnosis and disease interception with supportive treatment interventions is critical. New approaches that better harness “big data” and real-world evidence can help improve clinical trial design and drug development, and identify novel regulatory pathways in the brain. Science and technology offer us unprecedented opportunities in these areas.

Changing the dialogue around brain health
Stigmatization of mental health disorders continues to impede delivery of care to people who need it, and reduces awareness that mental health is an urgent public health concern. Anti-stigma initiatives that encourage more societal openness and better support for people who are suffering are critically needed.

The world has an 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. At Johnson & Johnson, we are committed to working together with others to revolutionize the way we think about, study and approach the development of solutions so that we can change the trajectory of mental illness around the world.


Originally published by the World Economic Forum