At this year’s reunion, we had a simply once in a lifetime opportunity to hear from General Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army General (Retired) who served as the 32nd Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. While there he was instrumental in leading the Department of Defense efforts to address post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suicide prevention. Currently General Chiarelli is the Chief Operating Officer of the “One Mind” organization. One Mind is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to benefiting all affected by brain illness and injury through fostering fundamental changes that will radically accelerate the development and implementation of improved diagnostics, treatments and cures — while eliminating the stigma that comes with mental illness.
During his spell binding keynote presentation, General Chiarelli posited that mental health affects more people than you think. From autism and Alzheimer’s disease to traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, brain diseases and injuries affect more than 60 million Americans — that’s more than one in five Americans suffering from mental illness or brain injury. Unfortunately, there has been little to no progress in developing solutions among the medical community. The current state of the art for diagnostics and treatment are woefully dated and ineffective. To make matters worse, there is not only far less large-scale research on brain illness and injury than other major diseases, but also the majority of research that is being conducted, the data and results are not being shared with other brain illness and injury researchers. Research and treatment for PTS and TBI are basically the same as were in effect during WWII.
One Mind is attempting to change that. They are attempting to create large-scale research on all brain injuries and openly share the research with any and all who need the information to advance treatment of these injuries. Chiarelli also indicated that One Mind is partnering with trailblazing online patient community builder PatientsLikeMe to enable an enhanced design and customized experience of world-class PTS and TBI online communities. The data from these PTS and TBI online communities will not only lead to better diagnostics, treatments and cures, but also be useful to researchers studying related illnesses of the brain such as depression, Parkinson’s, ALS, dementia, Alzheimer’s and addiction.
Of course funding is always an issue. Despite the need for diagnostics and treatments, the amount invested into brain research has been, historically, astoundingly low. The reasons? Government funding is largely fragmented, funding many small studies rather than major research projects that could lead to more significant results. And corporate funding (primarily from the pharmaceutical industry) has already decreased so dramatically that it can be considered insignificant. To make matters worse, translating research results to actual cures can take many years. In fact, this process is so arduous that the scientific community calls it “The Valley of Death.” To address this, One Mind is leading the effort by bringing together the governmental, corporate, scientific and philanthropic communities to facilitate data sharing and collaboration, accelerate large-scale research and focus on the needs of the patient.
General Chiarelli also stressed the importance of creating more awareness about the efforts of One Mind. That’s why One Mind participates in a variety of conferences, events, meetings and speaking engagements each year to educate public and private individuals and companies and make the issues surrounding mental health more known and understood.
This was an unbelievable opportunity for our reunion and truly kicked off the rest of the week in grand style.