Michelle Williams on Harnessing Technology to Address the Global Mental Health Crisis (TIPS 2018)

This keynote address, From Promise to Reality: Harnessing Technology to Address the Global Mental Health Crisis, was part of the 2018 Technology in Psychiatry Summit, an event sponsored by the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry, which occurred November 1-2, 2018 at JB Martin Conference Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.

Mental health is among the most pressing public health issues of our time. More than 450 million people around the world struggle with mental health disorders, placing such conditions among the leading causes of disability and the global burden of disease. Serious, unrelenting stress can cause both mental and physical “wear and tear,” contributing to a cascade of adverse health outcomes like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

We know that improving brain health is key to improving our overall health—and yet, mental health is not treated with the same urgency or gravity as physical health. Stigma and shame result in inadequate mental health care funding and unequal access to treatment. In the United States alone, more than half of those struggling with mental health conditions remain untreated. There is no question that we’ve reached a tipping point in this crisis—but also in our ability to address it.

Emerging digital technologies have the potential to revolutionize the way we diagnose and treat mental health care, especially for groups of people who have traditionally been hard to reach. At the Harvard T.H. Chan School, we are seeing that potential up close—from deploying telemedicine to connect mental health experts to remote and underserved populations, to harnessing smartphone-based, digital phenotyping to better understand mental and behavioral health. Such innovations hold great promise. It is our responsibility to turn that promise into reality.

Michelle Williams, SM, ScD, is the dean of the Faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is an internationally renowned epidemiologist and public health scientist, an award-winning educator, and a widely recognized academic leader. Prior to becoming dean in 2016, she was professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and program leader of the Population Health and Health Disparities Research Programs at Harvard’s Clinical and Translational Sciences Center.

Please visit mclean.org/itp to learn more about the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry.