Media Releases

Worldwide study identifies top global challenges in mental health

July 6, 2011

TORONTO, ON – A Toron­to-based researcher is at the helm of a mas­sive, world­wide study that iden­ti­fies the top glob­al chal­lenges in men­tal health. The paper result­ing from the study appears in Nature today.

Pro­fes­sor Abdal­lah S. Daar, senior sci­en­tist with the McLaugh­lin-Rot­man Cen­tre for Glob­al Health at the Uni­ver­si­ty Health Net­work (UHN) and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, co-authored the his­toric study, “Grand Chal­lenges in Glob­al Men­tal Health.” The study – the world’s largest of its kind – brought togeth­er more than 400 inter­na­tion­al researchers, advo­cates, clin­i­cians and oth­er experts to iden­ti­fy the major obsta­cles to improv­ing the lives of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness around the world. The paper in Nature also sug­gests pri­or­i­ties for research fund­ing agen­cies.

“Men­tal ill­ness­es are a prob­lem for the whole of human­i­ty – glob­al­ly, they con­tribute a huge bur­den, and they are poor­ly dealt with in almost all coun­tries. This is why we need to devel­op a glob­al list of chal­lenges and pri­or­i­ties,” says Daar, the senior author on the paper.

The study took 18 months to com­plete, hav­ing begun in ear­ly 2010. With lead­er­ship from the McLaugh­lin-Rot­man Cen­tre for Glob­al Health and the US Nation­al Insti­tute for Men­tal Health, it applied the fol­low­ing cri­te­ria in the last round to iden­ti­fy the top glob­al chal­lenges: abil­i­ty to reduce dis­ease bur­den; impact on equi­ty; imme­di­a­cy of impact; and fea­si­bil­i­ty. It grouped the grand chal­lenges into five goals that span dis­cov­ery sci­ence, pre­ven­tion, health care deliv­ery, train­ing, and pol­i­cy.

Among the top grand chal­lenges in glob­al men­tal health iden­ti­fied:

  • Inte­grate screen­ing and core pack­ages of ser­vices into rou­tine pri­ma­ry health care
  • Reduce the cost and improve the sup­ply of effec­tive med­ica­tions
  • Improve children’s access to evi­dence-based care by trained health providers in low- and mid­dle-income coun­tries
  • Pro­vide effec­tive and afford­able com­mu­ni­ty-based care and reha­bil­i­ta­tion
  • Strength­en the men­tal health com­po­nent in the train­ing of all health care per­son­nel

“For the first time ever, we have pro­vid­ed a clear pic­ture on where the great­est needs lie in terms of tack­ling glob­al men­tal health prob­lems. This will help sci­en­tists, advo­cates, clin­i­cians and prac­ti­tion­ers to focus their efforts and will also help glob­al Min­istries of Health and fund­ing agen­cies to under­stand the whole pic­ture, pri­or­i­tize and iden­ti­fy appro­pri­ate entry points,” says Daar, also a U of T Pro­fes­sor of Pub­lic Health Sci­ences and of Surgery. “Sub­stan­tial progress in men­tal health research can be made over the next decade if research fund­ing agen­cies focus on these pri­or­i­ties.”

Dean Catharine White­side of U of T’s Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine says Cana­di­an researchers will con­tin­ue to play a lead role in men­tal health research as they hone in on the study’s grand pri­or­i­ties. “Sci­en­tif­ic research into men­tal ill­ness has long been a major focus at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, but a clear­er vision for research that will have mean­ing­ful impact is emerg­ing, thanks to the work of Pro­fes­sor Daar and his inter­na­tion­al col­leagues. With these goals in mind, our top researchers will con­tin­ue to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with glob­al part­ners to address the most press­ing men­tal health chal­lenges.”

“This research is a remark­able achieve­ment in scope, sur­vey­ing many par­tic­i­pants in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cov­er­ing such a wide range of ill­ness­es,” says Dr. Sid­ney H. Kennedy, Psy­chi­a­trist-in-Chief, Uni­ver­si­ty Health Net­work and Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. “It has the poten­tial to trans­form how we treat men­tal ill­ness through­out the world by set­ting key pri­or­i­ties, research­ing and estab­lish­ing the most effec­tive treat­ment inter­ven­tions, and build­ing a com­mu­ni­ty of researchers and fun­ders who can coop­er­ate inter­na­tion­al­ly.”

“Our pre­vi­ous stud­ies had already iden­ti­fied glob­al chal­lenges and pri­or­i­ties for chron­ic dis­eases and infec­tious dis­eases. Men­tal health is the next fron­tier,” con­cludes Daar.


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Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to media rela­tions

Paul Can­tin
Asso­ciate Direc­tor, Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions,
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Temer­ty Temer­ty Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine