“Research shows that one in four people will develop some kind of mental health condition at some point in their lives, whether severe or mild. So, it’s fair to say that mental health problems are very relevant to us and therefore we need to look at them and deal with them,” said Marina Economou-Lalioti, Professor of Psychiatry at the Medical School of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA), during the 51st SNF Dialogues event on Wednesday, February 23. Focused on highlighting the global importance of mental health issues, the open, public dialogue with scientists, students, and educators discussed how the pandemic has brought mental health to the fore as a crucial issue around the world.
The audience, in search of answers from the professionals who participated, raised questions about topics including social stigma around mental health, communication about mental disorders, mental health through the prism of public health, and raising awareness among children and adolescents.
“There is a lack of information on mental health issues, and that’s where we need to factor in political accountability and trust in institutions. Trust in institutions especially is very important, which has now been made evident with the pandemic,” commented Economou-Lalioti, speaking on the need to raise public awareness about mental health issues. On the stigma attached to mental disorders, she stressed that “stigma is a social construct; it is not a human trait. Society ascribes certain characteristics to the patient and then the patient adopts them, internalizes them, and is stigmatized. They self-stigmatize from then on. The same stigma is placed on and sometimes even adopted by the family.”
Harold S. Koplewicz, founding president and Medical Director of the Child Mind Institute, participated in the SNF Dialogues webcast via live video to talk about the impact of the pandemic on children and adolescents. “For adults, this is going to be a bump in the road; there’s going to be two horrible years that we made the best of. But for teenagers in particular, these are definite losses…. In the United States alone, 167,000 children lost a caretaker or a parent that kind of loss, that kind of death, that kind of trauma, has very long-term effects. We’re going to see a ripple effect of mental health symptoms for at least a decade once COVID is over.”
Konstantinos Kotsis, Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, talked about the mental health of children and adolescents, noting that “in child psychiatry, we see that the stigma is usually greater in children, greater than in adult psychiatry. But, the truth is that things are getting better in this field.” Assessing mental health services in Greece, he commented that “there is definitely a need to strengthen the infrastructure, especially in remote and smaller regions where there is no easy access to mental health care and there is stigma, which is something we also need to work on. Similarly, within schools there should be programs through which teachers can help children.”
“It’s highly likely that in the next five to ten years, we’re really going to see a dramatic breakthrough in the development of new treatments. For example, disorders like autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder—disorders that can be on the more severe end of the spectrum sometimes—those disorders happen to be disorders for which the genetics, for example, is most well understood. They also happen to be disorders for which there is the most contact in general with the mental healthcare system, so the data sets that are available are the largest. We think that probably simply because of that, those are the areas that are likely to yield new treatments the soonest. We really want to emphasize that we think that this is an approach that needs to be applied across all of mental health and all of psychiatry,” said Steven Kushner, Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, discussing the approach of combining data, and genetic information, and new technology to address mental disorders as he participated in the SNF Dialogues webcast via live video.
Columbia University will also be home to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Center for Precision Psychiatry & Mental Health, whose mission will be to conduct research and develop services for patients in need of psychiatric care.
The Dialogues are curated and moderated by Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou and are held through journalism nonprofit iMEdD (incubator for Media Education and Development).