Why the Brain Health Epidemic is a Major Threat to Post-Pandemic Recovery – and What We Must Do to Urgently Address It

(BPT) - By Barry Greene, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Therapeutics

As the U.S. economy reopens and employees return to the workplace, a hidden pandemic threatens our economic competitiveness and jeopardizes equitable upward mobility for many.

We are in a mental health crisis - a brain health pandemic - exacerbated by COVID-19. What was already an overburdened and underfunded system of care now presents itself with an unprecedented strain, with people suffering approximately four times the previous pre-pandemic rate of depression symptoms in the U.S. alone according to research.[i] This impact will outlive the pandemic itself, potentially translating into billions of dollars in lost productivity for companies and their employees - and a staggering economic burden for our country overall.

Consider that, over the past 20 years, the U.S. economy experienced a nearly 100% increase in the economic impact of brain health disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, essential tremor, and Alzheimer disease[ii]. In the United States, treating depression alone costs $110 billion annually[iii], and half of that cost is shouldered by employers with an estimated 200 million days lost from work each year[iv].

To make matters worse, mental health expenses jumped by more than 10 percent annually over the past five years, compared with an annual increase of five percent for other medical costs, according to a study conducted by Aetna Behavioral Health. In fact, one study found that untreated depression costs $9,450 in absenteeism and lost productivity per employee, per year[v].

What can we do? First, do more to acknowledge that brain health matters. Brain health disorders such as depression are real diseases. It is encouraging that policymakers have begun to demonstrate more interest. Congress has held hearings, passed legislation, assembled task forces, and distributed funding. While an important first step, it addresses symptoms of an antiquated behavioral health care system rather than the root cause.

COVID-19 laid bare the risks of not having a robust public health infrastructure. We need to educate the next generation of health care providers to be inspired by the potential of breakthroughs in brain health.

The response to COVID-19 also precipitated positive, but temporary reforms, enabling more efficient access to care via telehealth services. This allowance will expire once the COVID-19 public health emergency sunsets, again injecting the barrier of stigma and disrupting today's broader physician access network. Not every emergency allowance achieved its desired outcome, but those reforms that did make a difference should be applauded and made permanent.

The brain is a complex organ. It has been decades since true breakthroughs in brain health have been achieved. It's time to reimagine the treatment of depression - how patients receive treatment and how providers manage it. We need a paradigm shift. There are people of all ages, races, and economic status suffering with depression or struggling with cognitive disorders. People are losing vibrancy, their quality of life, and the thing treasured the most - their independence. They are losing the opportunity to reach their full potential and possibly even losing their lives. Families are suffering too, and there is a lasting generational impact. I consistently hear from the advocacy community that the current system doesn't work, and caregivers are burning out - it is an urgent concern.

Brain health disorders need to be taken seriously and treated with urgency. Brain health should be integrated with physical health and managed with a mindset that puts people first. Bottom-line, brain health is health.

We, as an industry, must bring the innovation perspective to these meaningful discussions. We know the potential for new science, if successful, to advance treatment options and help people get better sooner and stay better. We must continue to help advance efforts to ensure that treatments for brain health disorders are accessible to all who need them. Collectively, we must move from mental health awareness to mental health action - to create a brain health movement with the potential to transform the lives of millions of people.

America is not working to our full potential - and the economic implications are as dire as the health ones. Mental health must be foundational to our recovery from COVID-19. We cannot move forward and rebuild our infrastructure without it. The risk is an intergenerational one, with families, society and our national economy shouldering the burden. Only by urgently addressing depression and brain health can the U.S. restore its global competitiveness, secure our economic future, and advance future generations.

[i] Czeisler M, Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic - United States, June 24-30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(32):1049-1057

[ii] BLS CPI (Consumer Price Index) Calculator was used to estimate 2000 and 2020 economic burden amounts using U.S. specific studies in respect to the indications noted.

[iii] American Heart Association, 2018, CEO Roundtable Report: Mental Health, A Workforce Crisis.

[iv] Leopold RS. A Year in the Life of a Million American Workers. New York, New York: MetLife Disability Group; 2001.

[v] American Heart Association, 2018, CEO Roundtable Report: Mental Health, A Workforce Crisis.

Data & News supplied by www.cloudquote.io
Stock quotes supplied by Barchart
Quotes delayed at least 20 minutes.
By accessing this page, you agree to the following
Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.