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Spring Hope

Innovation in Mental Health

Yesterday, CAMH and MaRS Discovery District partnered with TVO for our second of three “Innovations in Mental Health” events. We’re proud to bring you catalytic conversations about the health issue of our century – mental health.

When thinking about innovation, our minds usually go straight to technology – to machines and computers. But innovation also lives in ideas and approaches. When it comes to the complexities of mental illness, there’s been a dramatic innovation in the last decade – and it’s not all about equipment.

The “what” of the new thinking is that mental illness resides in the processes we develop to adapt to our environment.  It includes an acknowledgement of the way society identifies, labels and deals with our reactions to a life situation.  It’s the interface between the brain and its environment.

The past decade has yielded major advances in our understanding of brain structure and function. Of course, there’s a long tradition of inquiry into the impact of environment and social factors – of life experiences and human interaction – on mental health.  Now, we appreciate that the approaches are not mutually exclusive!

What’s really exciting is the “how.” In the past, we talked about a particular region of the brain or brain chemicals. Now, we talk about the way the brain develops, forms and actually changes in response to an environmental challenge.

We used to talk about genetic traits or the order of base pairs in our DNA. Now, we talk about phenotype (the way we present to the world) and epigenetics (the way genes become active or inactive – the way stem cells are stimulated to differentiate and brain circuits motivated to reorganize).

New approaches will produce targets for intervention in mental illness from health promotion and prevention to rehabilitation and recovery. Those approaches will be based on a solid understanding of the causes of mental illness.  We showcased a few of these at our CAMH-MaRS Innovation event yesterday:  virtual reality, personalized medicine, magnetic brain stimulation, social enterprise and patient entrepreneurship – exciting, inspiring, hopeful.

Hope is essential in creating a movement.  In the spring of 2013, there’s every reason to be hopeful.

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