Science and Technology: New Frontiers for Helping People with Mental Illness

Mental illnesses are amongst the most common, disabling, and costly disorders in all of medicine.  In contrast to most medical disorders, mental illnesses (including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder) usually begin before age 25.  This early onset combined with low rates of treatment too often incurs disability and high medical and social costs.  One recent report estimated the annual cost of mental illness in Australia at over $28B per year, 2.2% of the nation’s GDP.  In addition to the disability and costs, these disorders are often fatal.  In Australia, suicide has increased to the highest rate in 13 years, with the recent report of 2,864 deaths/year or nearly one every 3 hours. Fortunately, science and technology offer hope for reducing the high morbidity and mortality of these disorders.

The revolutions in genomics and brain imaging have begun to reveal the fundamental biology of psychosis as well as mood and anxiety disorders, changing our perspective on these illnesses from exclusively behavioral problems to disorders of specific brain circuits.  Meanwhile new sensors and software that have revolutionized so many aspects of our lives have begun to offer better ways of measuring behavior, promising powerful tools for detecting early signs of psychosis or depression. Modern scientific and information technologies not only are suggesting more precise diagnostic boundaries that may help people get the right treatment at the right time, they are creating new approaches to treatment that may improve outcomes and prevent suicide.

This lecture will describe some of the recent advances in the science of mental illness and new frontiers in technology that give hope for reducing the suffering from serious mental illness.