Mental Illness: The Scourge of Our Time

Herbert Pardes, M.D.

Mental Health Awareness Week in early October is an important marker that helps all of us shed light on the multifaceted problems associated with mental illness and the important work being done to alleviate suffering. Just consider these devastating facts and statistics:

- Suicide is among the top ten causes of death in the U.S.

- One in four people worldwide suffer from some type of mental illness, and two-thirds of them do not get the treatment they need.

- Everyday we hear about mass shootings, a rise in heroin addiction, young people lured into terrorist groups, veterans suffering with PTSD, and increases in depression and anxiety among children and adults.

Clearly, mental illness is a major international problem with devastating consequences, and more can be done to help millions of people around the world.

Taking action

In addition to raising awareness, more psychiatric research is needed to find new and better treatment options.

Earlier this year, a committee of leading minds in psychiatry met to help put a spotlight on those who are working to bring hope and healing to the millions suffering with mental illness. They reviewed nominations from the United States and abroad to select the 2016 winner of the Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health. The Prize is the only award of its kind recognizing a physician, scientist or public citizen whose extraordinary contribution has helped improve the lives of people affected by mental illness. The recipients of the Prize will be announced later this month.

I’m deeply honored that The Pardes Humanitarian Prize, established in 2014, includes my name.  But more important, the award, the ceremony and the scientific symposium associated with it are focusing attention on the people who are working hard to alleviate the suffering.

I believe mental illness is the largest single health challenge in the world, and the need is urgent to expand mental health services in developed and developing countries. I also believe the Prize will continue inspiring others to join in this urgent and important work – teachers, researchers, physicians, advocates, and citizens of the world.

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, which sponsors the prize, funds the most innovative ideas in neuroscience and psychiatry to help us understand the causes of, and develop new ways to treat, brain and behavior disorders – including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and PTSD.

In fact, since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $360 million in grants to more than 4,000 scientists around the world. This has led to over $3.5 billion in additional funding for these scientists. The Foundation is also dedicated to educating the public about mental health and how new discoveries can give people with mental illness a chance to live full, happy and productive lives.

In this regard, I also salute Research!America for increasing public and policymaker awareness of the health and economic benefits of medical research and building a strong base of citizen support.  With such strong alliances and the involvement of citizens from all walks of life, we can do much more to resolve the mental health issues that continue to plague our people and society. 

As we acknowledge Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s do more together.

Herbert Pardes, M.D. is the President of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of NewYork-Presbyterian, and Research!America board member.

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