What are Pharma doing for Mental Health?
Governments are increasingly worried about the state of people’s mental health – and for good reason. In the United States, the cost of lost wages, health care, and disability is approximately $317 billion every year. The US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates there were 61.5 million adults living with a diagnosed mental health disorder in 2014. People struggling with mental health issues are also getting younger. In England, the National Health Service (NHS) estimates there to be 850,000 young people (between five to 16 years old) with a mental health problem, with only 1 out of every 10 of them having access to proper treatment.
These figures are all the more alarming since they don’t include those who remain undiagnosed. It’s understandable then that the pharmaceutical industry has been busy developing new drugs to treat the various kinds of mental health problems. A report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) shows that the biopharmaceutical research companies in the US were in the process of conducting clinical trials or filing for FDA approval for 119 new medicines back in 2014 (including 36 for schizophrenia, 29 for depression, 15 for ADHD, and 15 for anxiety disorders). This is good news as improved drugs provide hope for many of those living with a mental health condition, and their loved ones.
Psychiatric Drugs: Sensationalised?
The relationship between pharma and mental health has always been wrought with debate. Some experts say that mental health problems are just products of pharma’s ability to sensationalise and justify demand for psychiatric drugs. Some also observe how drugs for depression and dementia, which produce side-effects, are overused, and thus, seem to do more harm than good for those who take them. Indeed, Peter Gøtzsche, Professor and Director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, even recommends to “Stop almost all psychotropic drugs” in a British Medical Journal (BMJ) debate.
However, mental health involves the exploration and governance of the human brain, an organ that still holds many mysteries, even after years of research. Although there is concern that some have abused the mental health drugs manufactured by pharma, it’s also good to keep in mind that many mental health disorders are actually considered as spectrums. Many people who find themselves within such spectrums may not need medication, while many others – those on the extreme ends – would suffer greatly without it.
In response to Gøtzsche in the BMJ debate, Professor of Mood Disorders at King’s College London, Allan Young, and psychiatric patient, John Crace, debunked his claim that drugs weren’t effective or beneficial and even highlighted the need for them since psychiatric conditions were the fifth leading cause of disability in the world. Mental health issues could also lead to physical conditions. Long-term use of schizophrenia drugs has also been found to prevent early deaths.
Why Debate is Good
Perhaps the real issue then isn’t whether pharma should or should not produce medication for improved mental health outcomes. The question is: How can patients be assured that they are being prescribed the kind of treatment that reflects a balance between drugs and non-drug or cognitive-based therapies?
Knowing the advantages, as well as potential side-effects, can prompt patients to openly discuss their mental health and treatment options with physicians. Additionally, this helps pharma stay on their toes, which is sure to benefit the patient most of all. There must always be regular reviews of various treatments, which are being carried out by pharma through their tremendous efforts in mental health research. For instance, the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA)/ Pharma Collaboration, which promotes research and policy on mental health, enlists the local offices of AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Lundbeck as partners.
Pharma’s investment in mental health should not be feared. In the end, the patient learns more and the physician can guide them in making more informed health decisions.
Pharma’s Move Towards Patient-Centricity
A promising argument for the relationship between pharma and mental health being welcomed, instead of feared, is pharma’s aggressive move towards patient-centricity (a concept that puts the patient and their needs at the heart of all that pharma companies do). This means that pharma wants to hear patient groups more and better involve patients in their treatment designs.
Perhaps the concern of people with mental health conditions – and experts alike – shouldn’t be whether mental health drugs are a necessity or not, but how soon we should expect patient-centricity to spread across the landscape of mental health therapy and drug development.
Lastly, one thing remains important: the role of physicians. Patients can access information about mental health – including therapeutic practices espoused by non-medical practitioners – but psychologists and psychiatrists are the gatekeepers who can shed better light on the pros and cons of any treatment and, more importantly, prescribe a balance between drug-based and therapy-based treatment.
What are your thoughts? Is pharma doing enough for mental health?