Breaking silos to propel mental health innovation

A team of global experts has published a roadmap for improving mental health by artfully combining various emerging, novel and proven technologies.

Now more than ever, we are in desperate need of impactful discoveries in mental health. The world is in the throes of a global mental health crisis with severe physical, social, and economic ramifications. COVID has only worsened the situation.

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, around 450 million people currently suffer from mental health conditions, marking mental health disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. Mental disorders account for five out of the top ten causes of global disability.

Although treatments are available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental health disorder will never seek help from a health professional. Surveys in India and China, which represent a third of the global population, have suggested this number is even higher, with more than 80% of people with any mental health or substance use disorder not seeking treatment.

In part, this is due to the pervasive stigma of mental illness that permeates societies and healthcare systems, resulting in systemic underinvestment in mental health.

When individuals do seek help, treatment quality is often poor. According to a recent report from a team of 28 global experts assembled by Lancet, the world’s failure to respond to the mental health crisis has resulted in a “monumental loss of human capabilities and avoidable suffering”.

The commission estimates more than 13 million lives could be saved every year if mental illness was treated properly – or at all. Beyond the profound costs of human lives and avoidable suffering, there are colossal financial ramifications.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), $10.6 billion was spent on mental health in Australia in 2018–19. COVID-19 has amplified many of these issues, triggering social and physical distancing, economic hardship, and challenges in accessing care. 

Modern mental health problems are characterized by their complexity, multi-systemic nature, and broad societal impact, making them poorly suited to siloed approaches of thinking and innovation.

Innovations at all different levels – such as those depicted above – are urgently needed. Even more, the demands of today’s global mental health crisis necessitate a shift in how we approach collaborations.

Solutions will need sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, ethicists, scientists, media practitioners, crisis management experts, policymakers, senior civil servants, and more.

These issues, and more, are addressed in the new book, Convergence Mental Health: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Innovation, published by Oxford University Press.

“Separation and isolation are features of many mental health problems. Why are they also features of our health systems attempts to fix them? This book is a bold and informed attempt to show a new way.”

Harold Mitchell, AC, Philanthropist, Founder, Harold Mitchell Foundation

The book is co-edited by our Director, Professor Michael Berk with Harris Eyre MD PhD, Co-Lead of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Neuroscience-inspired Policy Initiative, Co-Founder of the PRODEO Institute, and Adjunct Associate Professor with IMPACT.

The convergence philosophy underpins the collaborative structure of the IMPACT Institute. 

“This cross-pollination, ‘whole greater than the sum of its parts’ exemplifies what is needed to address the complex mental health disorders that our community face.

Prof. Michael Berk, co-editor

We bring together experts from diverse health and other disciplines. This allows us to explore the development of solutions for mental health problems from the lab bench to the bedside.” Says Prof. Michael Berk

We asked co-editor, A/Prof Harris Eyre about where the unique idea for this book originated from. “Mike and I teamed up on this topic out of a shared mission to advance mental health through radical innovation.

Convergence science or transdisciplinary science had never been formally explored in the mental health field – so we are pioneering a new field.”

The book also includes contributions from experts from prominent global organizations including the Milken Institute, Harvard University, Stanford University, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), OECD, One Mind, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, Mayo Clinic and many more.

“With global colleagues, we decided to craft this book to explore the value of ‘breaking siloes’ and working with engineers, neuroscientists, investors, economists, diplomats, management science and space medicine experts. We ultimately believe Convergence Mental Health is a mechanism for serendipitous innovation.” 

A/Prof Harris Eyre, co-editor 

A/Prof Eyre is hopeful that this exciting new way of thinking can accelerate research, treatment and our understanding of some of the most common mental health conditions.  “Serendipity has played a significant role in many scientific advancements in mental health throughout history, like the discovery of lithium as a treatment for bipolar disorder.”

“Adopting a serendipity mindset—the ability to use uncertainty as a pathway to a more successful and purposeful life—to reverse engineer the systems needed for more breakthroughs, and to span and fuse disciplines, might be the way to achieve this.” says A/Prof Eyre.

Explore more about Harris Eyre’s interesting work here

Get your hands on a copy of the new book, Convergence Mental Health: A Transdisciplinary Approach to Innovation, published by Oxford University Press here