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Digital neuroscience can help alleviate the mental health crisis

Digital image recreation of a human brain glowing orange with white lines & dots connecting and surrounding it

Financial Times

Bruce Wexler, MD

The ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has damaged mental health are becoming glaringly apparent. Hospitals are overburdened by mentally ill patients, therapists are unable to accept more clients, and there are accounts of a surge in student suicides across the US.The fact the pandemic has markedly increased the number of people experiencing anxiety and depression is not a surprise. The structure and function of our brains are shaped by input from other humans and human-made environments, and we need to visit familiar faces and places to maintain healthy brain function, especially in times of stress. Lockdowns have prevented that, making it critical we apply the same enthusiasm to protecting our mental health as we have with our physical health against the virus.  Without intervention the already soaring economic and social costs of depression will multiply. Prior to the pandemic, the annual economic burden of depression in the US was $210.5bn. Mental illness in the UK is the single largest cause of disability, contributing 22.8 percent of the total, compared with 16.2 percent for cardiovascular disease. Depression and stress greatly increase death rates from cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  We have known for decades that the early detection and treatment of depression saves lives and reduces costs. We make early interventions, such as promoting good diet and exercise, to reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease. Why have we only barely begun to do so with mental illnesses?Full article in Financial Times (available to subscribers)

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