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A Veteran’s Day Reflection on Mental Health

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From Bill Weldon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Johnson & Johnson

Each Veterans Day, Americans take a collective pause to express our gratitude for those who so honorably serve in the Armed Forces. We say a silent thank you for all who sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom, and applaud the heroism and bravery of returning veterans whose visible wounds often bear witness to their time on the front lines. But this Veterans Day, many of our young men and women in uniform are struggling with less visible wounds: traumatic injuries that don’t require a prosthetic or wheelchair – yet leave deep and lasting scars on the mind.

The challenge of treating and curing diseases and injuries to the brain is more critical than ever.  After nine years of frequent deployments, today’s combat veterans are increasingly suffering not only traumatic brain injuries but also the emotional and psychological wounds of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental conditions including addiction, depression and suicide. A 2011 study of returning soldiers conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that one in five active duty and more than four in ten reserve soldiers had been diagnosed as needing mental health treatment. And the US Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 11-20% of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have suffered from PTSD.

Americans owe it to the veterans who have served us so bravely to deliver our full support as they transition back to civilian life.  We must encourage them to seek the help they need by refusing to stigmatize or perpetuate the myths surrounding mental disorders, which often make it difficult for veterans who need care to step forward to receive it.  And most importantly, we need to give back to them through breakthrough research and innovative solutions that promote and provide a safe forum for healing.  

Yesterday, Johnson & Johnson announced a significant step toward ensuring that veterans – and all patients suffering from the devastation of brain injury and disease – get the support they deserve.  Through our Healthy Minds initiative, we are partnering with One Mind for Research to support a collaborative approach that applies the best scientific minds to neuroscience research.  One Mind for Research brings together the science, technology, financial resources and knowledge required to create an unprecedented understanding of brain diseases like PTSD and reduce the stigma associated with them.

We understand the urgency of finding effective treatments and cures and we believe that supporting One Mind will significantly advance the speed of discovery.  

Historically, medical progress has always been written in the context of an individual’s ‘aha!’ moment-- Pavlov and his dogs, Curie and radium, Salk and polio.

Progress still needs those brilliant individuals and those moments of intense clarity.  But today, we are able to connect the learning and energy of brilliant individuals with the scope and power of the medical community. Through public-private partnerships we can find root causes and cures more quickly.  A united front will help us erase the stigma of mental disease and together we can make breakthroughs that none of us could achieve on our own.

The brain is the most powerful and complex organ in the human body.  As research scientists, we are only just beginning to unlock its mysteries. 

But I am optimistic that the twin forces of technology and collaboration will allow us to accelerate the pace at which core research can progress. Now, more than ever, technology allows us to collate, digest and analyze data in quantities and speed un-imaginable five years ago.  And collaboration is allowing us to more easily and efficiently share, critique and advance our thinking.

No other category of disease has a more devastating impact on patients, their families and communities.  On November 11, as our entire nation pauses to honor the sacrifices of our veterans, we at Johnson & Johnson will pause to salute them as well.  But then we will return to the best tribute we can offer -- the task of relentlessly pursuing treatments and cures.  We are determined to apply our 125 years of commitment to the communities in which we live and work to unlock the mysteries of the brain and deliver new treatments to help people live happier and healthier lives.

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