John Bowis, GAMIAN-Europe Board member attended The Economist’s Conference ‘The Global Crisis of Depression’
The opening speaker was Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary-General, who called for mental health to be included in the successors to the Millennium Development Goals, that are now being drafted and which will come into force from 2015. The closing speaker was Alastair Campbell, who spoke of his own experiences living with depression. In between we had a series of excellent speakers and panellists and audience discussion and debate. Speakers included three Health Ministers from the UK, Denmark and Sweden, talking of new initiatives and targets in their respective countries. One of the new UK targets is to be a maximum of two weeks to be referred to a specialist. Afterwards John Bowis agreed to co-sign a letter to the press, saying this was far too long and referrals when necessary should be immediate.
Much of the discussion centred on the numbers and types of depression, with an agreement that one size did not fit all when it came to treatment. A particularly good speech was made by Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, Director of the Institute of Clinical Psychology at Dresden University. John Bowis made an intervention to stress this and to point towards developments in genetic testing and personalised medicine, which would identify the particular type of depression in an individual and hence more accurate medication and therapies, which would mean considerable efforts in patient and professional education and refinements in the regulatory system.
The second main theme was employment and depression and the need to disseminate best practice in employers’ mental health at work policies – for those who became ill, for carers and for the promotion of mental wellbeing among the workforce. There were some interesting examples of good practice, one of which was highlighted in a speech by a young man, David Kinder, working in the British Treasury (Finance Ministry), who had experienced a supportive management when he plucked up courage to tell them of his health problems and subsequently led a team, backed by the Minister, to writing a manual for the Ministry.
Speakers and participants came from many parts of the world, including Australia, USA and South Africa and most of the countries of Europe and including a range of NGOs, academics, health professionals and, importantly, leading businessman, all attracted by the conference label of the respected and influential Economist.