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World Mental Health Day 2013: Our Commitment to Advocacy and Reducing Stigma

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By Husseini K. Manji, M.D., F.R.C.P.C. Global Therapeutic Area Head, Neuroscience, Janssen Research & Development, LLC

Throughout my career, I have been passionate about understanding psychiatric illnesses and developing new treatments for them, as well as advocating for patients and families. I believe that if we can create understanding and acceptance, we can eliminate fear and despair, giving people hope for recovery and the power to help themselves and others.

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, which reminds us of the importance for increased dialogue about mental illness, as well as the acute need to advocate for people with brain disorders. Despite significant advances in science and the understanding that mental illnesses are biologically based, shame and stigma regarding these conditions endure. Stigma often prevents people from seeking treatment and prolongs suffering. This is a global problem that must be addressed locally through education and social change.

I’m particularly proud of two of the programs that Janssen supports to help people with mental illnesses. The first is the Dr. Guislain “Breaking the Chains of Stigma” Award, given in partnership with the Museum Dr. Guislain in Ghent, Belgium. The Award honors an individual or organization that has made an exceptional contribution to mental health on a cultural or social level. The second is The Global Mental Health Challenge, conducted in partnership with the New York Academy of Sciences and its Scientists Without Borders program that seeks new approaches to help people with depression and anxiety disorders in the developing world.

Today, the second annual Dr. Guislain Award winner was celebrated at a ceremony in Mumbai, India. The 2013 winner, Matrika Devkota, was honored for his commitment to providing a clinical, psychological, and social approach to treating mental illness in his community; Mr. Devkota lives in Nepal. His organization, Koshish—which means “making an effort” in Nepalese—works tirelessly with government agencies on behalf of those suffering from mental illness, seeks to improve policy and public perception surrounding these conditions, and empowers patients to advocate for change.  Mr. Devkota’s outstanding educational and advocacy efforts, as well as his commitment to combating mental health stigma throughout Nepal, exemplify the exceptional qualities of mental health advocates worldwide.

Mr. Devkota’s work is truly inspirational, and we can all learn from his efforts. People often ask me what they can do to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially because it is so pervasive in our society and difficult to address.   I think that progress can be achieved through relatively simple actions. We have to start with ourselves, and treat others the way we would want to be treated if we were sick or troubled. We also have to teach our children that people with mental illnesses have a disorder of the brain, no different than having a physical illness. We also have to emphasize that people with mental illnesses are not to be feared and that these disorders can be treated successfully. The media reports many stories linking violence and mental illness, but the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent. We can also get involved with advocacy organizations, help develop public policy, and raise our concerns in productive forms of discourse.

As noted above, Johnson & Johnson and Janssen, in conjunction with the New York Academy of Sciences, created The Global Mental Health Challenge this year. It seeks ideas to increase awareness and utilization of mental health services for depression and anxiety disorders among individuals in the developing world. Mental disorders pose severe public health consequences in low- and middle-income countries, where nearly three quarters of global cases occur. There is enormous need to help people in these developing regions where mental disorders are exacerbated by a significant lack of awareness and education, stigma from both the community and individuals, and a profound lack of global investment in mental health care.

The Global Mental Health Challenge is an open innovation challenge, searching for bold and innovative ideas that have the potential to significantly increase the use of available evidence-based services for the diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety. We believe this effort to engage diverse global problem-solvers in order to find new ways to help educate people and enable them to seek care for mental illness will ultimately lead to more effective treatment. We received many strong proposals in response to the call for submissions for the Challenge over the last month and are excited that we will be announcing a winner within the next few weeks.

For more than 50 years, Janssen has been working to find new and better medicines for people with brain disorders. Our Company’s namesake and founder, Dr. Paul Janssen, was a brilliant scientist and physician who contributed greatly to the treatment of patients with mental illness. His discovery of new molecules to treat mental illnesses improved the range of treatments available and continues to inform and inspire our scientific discovery and product development approach today. My hope is that as we continue to make scientific progress to bring forth new and promising treatments for mental illness, we will also make progress in our fight against the stigma associated with these illnesses. I hope that you will join me in a vision of the future where the world will be quite a different place for people who have disorders of the brain – a place with no stigma and no shame about mental illness, and hope for recovery and a better life.


Husseini K. Manji, MD, FRCPC is the Global Therapeutic Head for Neuroscience at Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical companies. He was previously Chief, Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology & Experimental Therapeutics, NIH, and director of the NIH Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, the largest program of its kind in the world. He is also a visiting professor at Duke University. Dr. Manji received his B.S. (Biochemistry) and M.D. from the University of British Columbia. Following residency training, he completed fellowship training at the NIMH and obtained extensive additional training in cellular and molecular biology at the NIDDK. The major focus of his research has been the investigation of disease- and treatment-induced changes in gene and protein networks that regulate synaptic and neural plasticity in neuropsychiatric disorders. His work has helped to conceptualize these illnesses as genetically-influenced disorders of synaptic and neural plasticity, and has led to the investigation of novel therapeutics for refractory patients. He has also been actively involved in the development of biomarkers to help refine these multifactoral diseases into mechanism-based subcategories to develop targeted therapeutics. Dr. Manji is a previous recipient of numerous research and clinical awards, including the NIMH Director's Career Award for Significant Scientific Achievement, the A. E. Bennett Award for Neuropsychiatric Research, the Ziskind-Somerfeld Award for Neuropsychiatric Research, the NARSAD Mood Disorders Prize, the Mogens Schou Distinguished Research Award, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP)’s Joel Elkes award for distinguished research, the Canadian Association of Professors Award, the Brown University School of Medicine Distinguished Researcher Award, the DBSA Klerman Senior Distinguished Researcher Award, the American Federation for Aging Research Award of Distinction, the Global Health & The Arts Award of Recognition, and the NIMH award for excellence in clinical care and research.

In addition to his neuroscience research, and biomarker and therapeutics development endeavors, Dr. Manji has also been actively involved in medical and neuroscience education undertakings, and has served as a member of the National Board of Medical Examiners (NMBE) Behavioral Science Test Committee, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Scholars Program Selection and Advisory Committee, and numerous national curriculum committees. He founded and co-directed the NIH Foundation for the Advanced Education in the Sciences Graduate Course in the Neurobiology of Neuropsychiatric Illness, has received both the NIMH Mentor of the year and NIMH Supervisor of the year awards, and the Henry and Page Laughlin Distinguished Teacher Award. He has published extensively on the molecular and cellular neurobiology of severe neuropsychiatric disorders and the development of novel therapeutics. He has been editor of Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews: the next generation of progress, deputy editor of Biological Psychiatry, associate editor of the journal Bipolar Disorders, and has been a member of the editorial board of numerous journals.

Dr. Manji has been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM), has been elected Chair, Institute of Medicine Interest Group on Neuroscience, Behavior, Brain Function, has been a Councilor of both the ACNP and Society of Biological Psychiatry, co-chairs the NIH Biomarkers Neuroscience Steering Committee, chaired the ACNP’s Task Force on New Medication Development, has been named to the Board of the International Neuroethics Society, and is recent past president of the Society of Biological Psychiatry.

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