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ACCORDING TO THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION, 14 percent of the global burden of disease — a measure that takes into account both years of life lost due to premature death and the reduced quality of life during the time spent living with a condition — is attributable to mental and cognitive health issues. Mental health conditions can affect people beginning at an early age, potentially costing decades of productivity and fulfillment — as well as deeply eroding quality of life and relationships when they strike later in life.
The enormity of this problem demands public health solutions. We need to in- vest in prevention and ensure that care and treatment are widely available for all affected. We must change societal attitudes about mental health, removing the stigma that prevents individuals and families with mental health needs from discussing their risk factors and condition, and from seeking services that could help. This is true both in the U.S. and globally, where the lack of access to routine mental health care and the absence of sufficient prevention strategies are sometimes compounded by tragedy. We must be concerned with the mental health as well as the physical survival of the millions of refugees fleeing Syria, for example, and of the victims of massive droughts and other natural disasters.
As the articles in this issue of our magazine attest, Fielding School faculty, students, staff and alumni are engaged in wide-ranging public health efforts to identify problems and find solutions to improve mental and cognitive health. Whether it’s addressing the mental health effects of violence and discrimination; ensuring access to evidence-based treatment for people with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions; removing the stigma surrounding mental illness; providing more precise projections on the looming Alzheimer’s disease epidemic, including the potential impact of new prevention and treatment strategies; or assisting those dealing with cognitive decline today, including the family caregivers of people with dementia, our community is making an impact through the power of public health.
Mental and cognitive health conditions currently exact a needlessly heavy toll. We can do much more by investing in prevention, increasing access to effective treatment, and removing the stigma that too often makes these conditions worse for individuals and families. We at the Fielding School are committed to pursuing these public health strategies to ensure that all of us can lead healthier lives.
Jody Heymann, MD, PhD