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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsMind Matters

Mental health research should not be privatized

Google is taking over the world — or so it seems. A company that had the original purpose of creating an Internet search engine is now a technological giant, which has expanded into markets ranging from drones to pharmaceutical sales. It even has its own verb. As such, it has begun to reorganize into Alphabet, a conglomerate that is expected to open by the end of 2015.

Google Life Sciences, which will soon be a part of Alphabet, won big. Dr. Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has announced that he will be stepping down from his position in November to join GLS. He will soon be leading the mental health research movement for Life Sciences.

When I read this news, my heart dropped. Insel has made great strides for the mental health community. As head of NIMH, he was able to focus work on the treatment of mental illness while still addressing the lengthy list of concerns from political and advocacy groups. His move to the private sector, though a personal decision, will certainly have an effect on the public mental health initiative.

I have confidence that NIMH will find another leader who will promote positive change for mental health practices, but I fear for the number of researchers who will follow suit with Insel and make the move to the private sector. Google has yet to decide which direction its mental and behavioral health research will go and, therefore, has yet to decide where it will concentrate its finances.

The private sector usually has greater funding and does not have to jump through government hoops, but its research results can also be less available to the public. Mental health should not be privatized. It should not be monopolized.

Insel will help to develop tools to recognize mental illness earlier and to better prevent and manage serious health conditions. By extension, this will also help to develop Google as a global leader. His move to the private sector will give him more financial incentive, but he will hopefully have an impact nonetheless.