Meadows Institute leaders address brain health ‘crisis’ at 78th United Nations General Assembly
Glancing at his wristwatch, Professor Claudio Bassetti, vice president of the European Brain Council and a leading Swiss neurologist, called the Brain Health & Research Day at the Science Summit at the United Nations General Assembly promptly to order at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 18, vowing to live up to his country’s reputation for precision.
But Bassetti didn’t need to prod the international audience of scientists, diplomats, politicians, entrepreneurs, and mental health advocates to take their seats. They arrived at the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan that morning with a collective sense of urgency.
In a speech titled “An International Vision to Advance Innovation in Mental Health,” Andy Keller, president and CEO of the Meadows Institute, underscored that urgency. “For the mental health component of the brain, we’re experiencing a crisis that’s been going on for a long time. It’s been particularly bad for the past 10 years and has [grown worse] since the pandemic.”
Dr. Gregory Roth, director for the program in cardiovascular health metrics at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, broke that crisis down in dollars and cents.
“The disease burden and economic impact of brain health disorders is large,” he said, estimating it to be more than $2.3 trillion and growing. In the United States alone, he said, common brain disorders such as anxiety and depression result in an annual loss of $350 billion by interfering with people’s ability to earn an income.
The way to reverse that trend, said Meadows Institute Chief Innovation Officer Kacie Kelly, is through collaboration – “breaking down silos and bridging borders.” That was the theme of an hourlong panel discussion that Kelly moderated at the summit, which was convened by the European Brain Council in cooperation with the Baker Institute for Public Policy, the Brain Capital Alliance, and the Brain Nexus.
Meadows Institute President and CEO Andy Keller speaks at Brain Health & Research Day at the Science Summit at the 78th United Nations General Assembly
“Collaboration globally is not just about bringing one sector together,” said panelist Cara Altimus, a senior director at the Milken Institute. “It’s actually about creating the space for clinical and scientific innovation to happen together.”
We’re all dealing with the same set of brain health issues and none of us have enough resources on our own and none of us are going to be able to address this crisis on our own.– Andy Keller
In Texas, Keller said, that collaborative approach is what has enabled the Meadows Institute to secure an increase in baseline mental health funding from the state by roughly $5 billion over the last several years. Likewise, he said, the Institute has been able to collaborate well with leaders in Congress, despite an era of increased political polarization.
“Although things are bad rhetorically, people are still coming together to set priorities and do things collaboratively,” Keller said, pointing to last year’s passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as an example. “We’re seeing historic investments in the mental health services side and also some increasing investment in the research side.”
Another key to solving the crisis of brain health, Keller said, is a focus on youth and early detection of mental health issues, a theme that was echoed throughout the summit.
For diseases like cancer and heart disease, there is a “relatively organized system that begins with primary care, that’s all about early detection,” he explained. But for mental health care, “we wait until there’s a crisis, when you notice you’re sick or someone else does.”
That needs to change, agreed panelist Kana Enomoto, director of brain health at McKinsey Health Institute.
From left to right: Panelists Kana Enomoto, director of brain health, McKinsey Health Institute and Danish Munir, founding partner, GreyMatter
“We know that young people will tell us, ‘we are suffering for our brain health.’ But countries also need to invest there. The data show that half of the symptoms start at 14, three quarters by age 24. We need to use the data to show that if we can intervene earlier, we can mitigate some of that – we can prevent otherwise serious conditions from becoming critical.”
Meadows Institute Chief Innovation Officer Kacie Kelly moderates a panel discussion titled “Breaking Silos and Bridging Borders: Uniting Regions, Sectors, and Care Delivery Models”