Breaking the Stigma Can Do Wonders for the Understanding and Treatment of Mental Illness

Breaking the Stigma Can Do Wonders for the Understanding and Treatment of Mental Illness

05.23.14 | By John Castellani

Mental illness, whether we realize it or not impacts us all. 61.5 million Americans or one in four has a mental illness. The statistics can be alarming when you take a deeper look: One in 20 U.S. children has ADHD, 21 million American adults currently suffer from depression, and 40 million Americans have some type of anxiety disorder. But there is hope.

According to PhRMA’s latest Medicines in Development report on Mental Health, biopharmaceutical research companies are currently developing 119 medicines to help people who have some type of mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or substance abuse disorders. With such a significant effort being put into innovation surrounding mental health treatment, it’s important to highlight the many factors that can hinder or aid in the success of these new medicines.

The report noted that development of new and effective treatments for mental disorders has been hindered by many factors, including a limited understanding of how current treatments work on the brain; a lack of biomarkers that help clinicians’ diagnose accurately, adherence to treatment plans, and the complexity of mental disorders themselves. However, new programs such as the Fast-Fails Trials (FAST), an NIMH program in collaboration with select academic research teams, are working to accelerate the pace of psychiatric drug discovery through rapid testing of new or repurposed compounds for their potential as psychiatric medications.

With such exciting advancements occurring in the medical pipeline we asked the following in our Conversation’s forum:

What needs to happen to ensure that ‘treatment’ is front and center in America’s ongoing conversation on mental illness?

Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noted that “individualizing treatment is critical and continues to be challenging despite recent advances in neuroscience. This challenge is compounded by the fact that many individuals suffer from more than one mental health condition such as depression alongside an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and substance abuse, and schizophrenia coinciding with anxiety or depression — all common comorbidities.”

Much of the challenge in treating mental illness starts with recognizing the sigma that continues to surround it. Dr. Torsten Madsen, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of U.S. Drug Development at Lunbeck said, “Only when our society values the importance of treating mental health the way we do physical health, can we fully address patients’ needs.”

Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health noted without predictably effective treatment options available, often the tendency is to conduct “trial and error with current medications,” which remains the standard of care. But as Dr. Insel highlights, “Since it takes several weeks for antidepressant and antipsychotic medications to reduce symptoms, trial and error often means weeks of needless suffering.” He added, “In the absence of compelling evidence for choosing a specific treatment, polypharmacy, for better or worse, is now the norm for treating mental disorders.” While there are proposals out there for changing the way we treat mental illness, Dr. Insel is right when he says “The future for treating mental disorders belongs to networked solutions that combine medications, technology, and psychosocial treatments.”

Mental illness is something which impacts our entire society and I want to thank all of our Conversations contributor’s for sharing their thoughts on this important topic. I encourage you to share your thoughts yourself on the discussion here.


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