APEC collaboration to address the economic burden of mental illness

On April 13, 2016, the World Bank and the World Health Organization will co-host their first-ever high-level meeting on mental health and economic prosperity in Washington, DC. According to the World Bank, the meeting  “aims to move mental health from the margins to the mainstream of the global development agenda” and will bring together finance ministers, inter-governmental organizations, and business, academic, and civic leaders to promote critical investments in mental health around the globe.

“Mental illness accounts for one-third of all chronic disease burden” and “is a key element of socio-economic concern” confirms the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an inter-governmental organization that has been a leader in recognizing and addressing mental health, wellness, and stigma as critical to member economies’ social and economic well-being.

A foundational piece of APEC’s strategic plan to ease the economic burden of adverse mental health has been the establishment of The APEC Digital Hub for Best and Innovative Practices in Mental Health Partnerships (the “Digital Hub”), a collaborative, multi-national web-based platform that will enable leaders in government, academia, business, clinical care, and communities of people with lived experience to innovate and coordinate regional solutions to mental health care challenges.

Bringing the challenge of global mental health home, the Digital Hub is currently under development and will be hosted at the University of British Columbia, under the leadership of Dr. Raymond Lam (pictured right) and in collaboration with the University of Alberta and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

“This is an important global mental health initiative,” says Dr. Lam, Executive Director of The Digital Hub and Professor and Associate Head for Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the UBC Mood Disorders Centre.

“There’s a distinct convergence of economic impacts related to mental illness, particularly in lower-income countries, and we now have an opportunity to address this,” says Dr. Lam.

The burden of mental health issues, especially depression, on global economies is staggering, with as many as one in three people suffering from the effects of mood disorders. These effects range from cost of care to decreased productivity, leading to a lost global economic output of $800 billion per year. The Digital Hub will emphasize evidence-based approaches to implementing best practices and policies for care, reducing costs, and establishing guidelines for psychological health and safety in the workplace.

The Digital Hub is a web-based, interactive resource designed to facilitate the establishment of partnerships to implement the APEC Roadmap to Promote Mental Wellness in a Healthy Asia-Pacific, an initiative to improve productivity and wellbeing among member countries. “There’s a huge opportunity here to involve tech and pharmaceutical industry partners in public- and private-sector collaborations,” says Dr. Lam. “We’re looking for those partnerships now.”

The Digital Hub will connect researchers, policy-makers and clinicians from across the Asia-Pacific region, and Canada’s leadership role in this initiative is significant.

“This will showcase Canadian research, and highlight researchers across the country, including here at UBC,” says Dr. Lam. “APEC has acknowledged the economic benefits of mentally well populations, and that prevention and treatment of mental disorders is beneficial for everyone. For Canadians, this is an unprecedented opportunity to demonstrate leadership and excellence in global mental health research, policy, treatment, and prevention.”

The 21 APEC member economies represent 2.8 billion people, 60 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, and 47 per cent of global trade. 

Read more: APEC Advances Strategy to Support Mental Wellness