The impacts of adverse brain function have never been greater. Just consider the following effects on you, your friends and family, and the global society — the multi-trillion-dollar cost of mental disorders and dementia — which worsened during COVID-induced stress and isolation; the damaging effects of the COVID virus on our neurons — the full extent is yet to be realized; the mass psychological distress of fake news and populist tribalism; the tragic and worsening effects of science denialism; disruptions to education systems during COVID and; the increasing rates of un- and under-employment due to industrial automation.
Disruptions to brain health, such as mental health conditions and neurodegenerative diseases, are becoming increasingly prevalent and burdensome. Although treatments are available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental health disorder never seek help from a health professional. Surveys in India and China, which have one third of the global population, have suggested that this number is even higher, with more than 80% not seeking treatment. McKinsey & Company suggest that roughly 90% of employers have noted declines in employee behavioral health during the pandemic (along with concomitant losses in productivity).
But the absence of brain disease is just a start for optimizing Brain Capital. Brain skills including self-control, emotional intelligence, creativity, mindfulness, compassion, altruism, systems thinking, metacognition, critical thinking and cognitive flexibility; are all part of an individual’s and society’s Brain Capital.
We recently articulated a Brain Capital Grand Strategy aimed at building on the Brain Capital concept, and reorienting the global economy around optimizing for higher Brain Capital. We believe that maximizing Brain Capital — broadly defined — has a number of strong positive feedback loops that make it uniquely powerful as an organizing principle:
· Optimizing an individual’s Brain Capital not only benefits them personally, but also makes life better for those around themselves.
· An organization with high Brain Capital will have beneficial ripple effects in associated communities.
· Maximizing Brain Capital at scale will have a strong, positive effect on traditional economic measures — like GDP, productivity — but also on newly measures of success, like Well-being, Quality of Life and Flourishing.
In the Grand Strategy, we suggest an in-all-policies approach — after all, the defining feature of being human is our brain, so it is logical that we think about Brain Capital in every policy area. We also outline a Brain Capital Investment Plan, leveraging traditional sources of capital (e.g. venture capital, government grants) as well as novel ones (e.g. healthy brain bonds, megafunds, ESG Exchange Traded Funds). We encourage the development of a Brain Capital Index to formalize and track Brain Capital over time.
The Brain Capital Grand Strategy provides a framework for organizing and accelerating existing, constructive projects, both public and private.
And the private sector is already recognizing the value of Brain Capital. For example, Venture capital investing in mental health technologies neared USD $1 billion in 2020. Lyra Health, a technology enabled workplace mental health provider, has reached a $2.25 billion dollar valuation and shown major increases in workplace mental health support. Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative has been initiated as a a first-of-its-kind global public-private collaborative linking discovery research, clinical trials and health system readiness across high-, middle- and low-resource countries to tackle Alzheimer’s disease.
In the public sphere, the United Nations has noted the critical importance of protecting mental health and wellbeing during COVID, and has launched a series of high-profile programs such as World Mental Health Month and the UN System Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy. In April 2020, more than 1,000 mental health experts and advocates from more than 40 countries signed an open letter calling on global leaders to integrate mental health into recovery plans. There could be at least 60 million fewer cases of anxiety, depression and epilepsy between now and 2030 if we increase spending on mental health to recommended levels. People could gain 25 million healthy life years, and 200,000 deaths could be avoided.
The Brain Capital Grand Strategy should be at the heart of our post-collapse, systemic recovery, enabling a long-term global whole of systems approach to boosting economic and societal resilience.
Rashi Ojha, MD candidate at UCLA
Erin Smith, Associate with the PRODEO Institute and Thiel Fellow at Stanford University
Andrew S. Nevin DPhil, Partner and Chief Economist, PWC Nigeria
William Hynes DPhil, Senior Advisor to OECD Secretary General and Head of New Approaches to Economic Challenges Unit
Harris A. Eyre MBBS PhD, Co-Founder of the PRODEO Institute, President of PRODEO, Instructor with the Global Brain Health Institute, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Institute for Mental Health and Physical Health and Clinical Translation at Deakin University