Mental illness is the health issue of our time

One in three Canadians will experience depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease or another brain condition. Mental illness, neurodevelopmental abnormalities and neurodegenerative diseases carry enormous societal, economic, human rights and personal costs. There is a pressing need for novel treatment approaches and models of care to reduce the burden of these illnesses, and we must find ways to tap into the neural regeneration capacity of the brain.

The body’s most complex organ is slow to give up its secrets, but progress over the past decade is accelerating.

Enticing possibilities are emerging from our growing understanding of the subtleties of genetic influence, the impact of childhood adversity on the developing brain, and the interplay between life experience and neuroplasticity. Advances in genetic sequencing and epigenetics, brain imaging and bioinformatics have enabled rapid and detailed analysis of information. As a result, critical questions and surprising directions are materializing. We have a better understanding of the genes, circuits, and cell functions underlying the spectrum of brain dysfunction that results in complex motor, sensory, cognitive and behavioural symptoms. This has brought us closer to the goal of accurate diagnosis, meaningful prognosis – and defined treatment or prevention options.

Canada is part of a worldwide brain research revolution. At CAMH, scientists in the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute are making powerful contributions. We’ve been able to do this with the support of our federal and provincial governments as well as generous philanthropists. We’re exploring non-invasive brain stimulation techniques, creating hope in those instances where current treatment strategies have failed our patients. We’re working to identify novel targets for new drug development and investigating ways to identify illness at an early stage. We’re driving toward the insights, skills and tools for rapid introduction of prevention strategies and precision treatments – all focused on reducing the impact of illness and transforming lives.

There are many questions to answer, but better treatments, prevention and perhaps cures are within reach. In the meantime, as an organization, as part of the healthcare system and as a society, we at CAMH remain deeply committed to providing the best care available and finding ways to more effectively support people who live with this spectrum of life altering conditions.