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We do a strange thing when talking about mental health. Any violent offender who commits a particularly heinous crime faces the possibility of being branded ‘mentally ill’. This term has become a go-to, catch-all phrase, and as a result it perpetuates an incredibly negative stereotype.
– Read all of our WIRED Health 2017 coverage
The reality could not be more different; diagnosis of mental illness is increasingly broad, it affects vast numbers of the population, and as it grows, so too does the cost of treatment.
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According to the World Health Organisation, more than 300 million people of all ages currently suffer from a form of depression. The UK charity Combat Stress, which provides support for British military personnel, lists alcohol abuse, panic attacks and PTSD as among the most common mental illnesses seen in returning soldiers. Unlike physical illness, for which we have the language to be more nuanced (from feeling “a bit poorly” to lying critical in an ICU), mental illness is often treated like a binary condition: you’re either fine, or you’re not. And if you’re not, not only will you have to find a way to manage your symptoms, you’ll face a stigma that lingers.
“Mental health for years has been inadequately addressed, partly because the tools we had on offer were hard to scale, and partly because some of the most powerful tools in brain health were stigmatised and turned into scheduled drugs, effectively halting any progress that could be made to prove their efficacy,” says Khaliya, public health specialist and mental health advocate. “The drugs I am referring to are psychedelic compounds like Psyciliciban, LSD, MDMA, Ayahausca and 5-MeO-DMT.
“In the past few years, the research into these drugs, while primarily small scale studies, has had phenomenal success. [They] hold the promise that we might finally be able to not just treat, but actually heal the brain.”
Speaking at WIRED Health in London, Khaliya gave a rousing speech about her own mental health issues. “I am well today, literally healed,” she said. “I’m grateful for every day and for being given a second chance at life, but I am one of the lucky ones. The people who need this most desperately can’t afford to wait decades.”
Three questions with Khaliya:
Your work is helping change the world. What are three eye-opening stats on the potential impact of your initiatives?
Brain issues are currently causing a huge amount of suffering globally. Between 2011-2050, the cumulative global economic output loss associated with mental health disorders is projected to be $16.3 trillion, making the economic output loss comparable to the entire GDP of the United States. Stroke and dementia are also on the rise. These figures are staggering and alarming, more so if you consider that many potentially effective treatments out there are not being put into use and are not being adequately researched [because] of cultural, not medical, reasons.
What is your biggest pet peeve about the health industry and why?
My biggest pet peeve about the health care industry is that it does not harness our most powerful weapons: the human body itself. With respect with to the brain, this means psychedelic compounds, and with respect to the body this [means] harnessing the power of stem cells.
What advice can you give someone struggling to change or evolve their organisation?
Your organisation should be aligned with your beliefs; it should be something that you and everyone you work with are passionate about. Organisations that are not working well are often looking to simply make money rather than solve a problem or address a real need. I have seen that those that align their organizations with who they are are able to give more to it and make it more valuable as a result.