Changing the World with Smartphones

“We are wildly ambitious,” Tom Insel, M.D., says when asked about his plans for Verily Life Sciences, a research organization parented by Google. After 13 years, Insel rocked the world of brain science when he announced plans to step down as director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in late 2015. His departure from NIMH, however, wasn’t a leave from neuroscience research or public health; it was a progressive step towards advancing the technologies that are predicted to transform mental health care.

Recently, Insel was profiled in the July/August 2017 issue of The Atlantic, which offers a thorough look at the trajectory that took him from lead role at the world’s largest mental health research institution to complete submersion in the energetic tech bubble of Silicon Valley.

The article recounts Insel’s early work in behavioral research, as well as his influence on the field of antidepressants and NIMH’s involvement in clinical drug trials. Presented with an opportunity to direct a new mental health team under Google, he could now focus on taking applied research and use it to help millions of people globally, who are in need of mental health care. “At any given moment, roughly one in seven of the world’s 7.5 billion people is struggling with mental illness. ‘We’re not going to reach all those people by hiring more psychiatrists,’ says Insel. But we might reach them with smartphones.”

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Dana Grantee Aims to Offer a More Personalized Treatment for Depression

DrEtkin_Jan2013_8880_5x7eIn an effort to create a more personalized approach to treating depression and to better understand its underlying circuitry, Amit Etkin of Stanford University is studying the use
of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in combination with whole-brain EEG and functional MRI. According to Etkin:

By stimulating brain activity and assessing circuit-level changes as they happen, we can garner important insight into what is wrong in depression and how to fix it in an optimized, personalized matter.

I’ll give you one concrete example: It matters whether stimulation is done to an area in the patient’s brain that is abnormal or normal. For any treatment in any psychiatric disorder, we don’t actually know whether the goal of treatment is to normalize abnormal brain activity or to engage compensatory circuitry. It’s a fundamental question that we cannot answer without a direct tool for manipulating brain systems and assessing the effects.

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Severe Irritability in Children Not a Precurser to Bipolar Disorder

Guest Post by Brenda Patoine

Ever witnessed an all-out temper tantrum from a nap-deprived three-year-old? Now imagine living with that kind of emotional outburst day in and day out for years. This is what it’s like for parents of children with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), a newly recognized psychiatric syndrome that typically begins before age ten.

child temper tantrum

Credit: Shutterstock

DMDD is among the “new” mental health disorders described in the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), used by mental health professionals to diagnose and treat mental illness.

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The Holiday Blues

Contrary to popular belief, suicides do not increase during the winter holidays. But that doesn’t mean that holiday depression or sadness is not real for some people.

In the Dana Foundation’s new briefing paper, “Holiday Blues: Getting the Facts, Forgetting the Myth,” mental health experts and Dana Alliance members Myrna Weissman and Eric Nestler discuss what factors may contribute to these “holiday blues.”

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Global Mental Health

“The burden of mental disorders is enormous, under-appreciated, and under-resourced, said epidemiologist Hans-Ulrich Wittchen at a panel on global mental health at the International Neuroethics Society (INS) annual meeting yesterday.

Wittchen was joined on the panel by epidemiologist Dana March and in-coming INS president and Dana Alliance member Judy Illes for a discussion that focused on the discrepancy between mental health disease burden and investment in prevention research, and ways to improve treatment research and access to care.

Moderator John Pickard oversees the audience Q&A with panelists Dana March, Judy Illes, and Hans-Ulrich Wittchen. Photo credit: Gillian Hue

Moderator John Pickard oversees the audience Q&A with panelists Dana March, Judy Illes, and Hans-Ulrich Wittchen. Photo credit: Gillian Hue

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