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World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year. It’s a time to try and raise awareness about mental health issues and the impact they have not just on the individual but their family, their community and all of us. The theme for World Mental Health Day 2021 is ‘mental health in an unequal world.’
To highlight the issues raised on World Mental Health Day we talked to one of CIRM’s newest Board member, Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey. She’s a psychologist and the CEO of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CCCBHA) a statewide advocacy organization representing mental health and substance use disorder non-profit agencies that collectively serve over 750 thousand Californians annually.
What made you want to be on the CIRM Board?
I was recommended to apply for the CIRM Board by a member of CCCBHA, the organization I am privileged to lead and serve. I saw the position as an opportunity to shed light on cognitive disorders that many do not readily think of when they think about stem cell research. The appointment also has personal meaning to me as I have a grandfather who is a cancer survivor and who has an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Breast cancer has also affected women in my family, including myself, and I know that the research that CIRM funds can assist with finding a cure and providing accessible treatment options for all Californians.
A lot of people might not think that stem cells would have a role in addressing mental health issues, what role do you think they can play?
You are correct, most people do not immediately think of stem cell therapies as a remedy to brain health disorders. However, there are many cognitive disorders and symptoms that can be mitigated, and hopefully someday ameliorated, as a result of stem cell therapies. For example, autism and other developmental disabilities, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Tourette’s and tardive dyskinesia.
What are the biggest challenges we face in addressing mental health issues in this country?
Stigma remains a significant barrier that impacts the ability to provide – particularly among racially and ethnically diverse communities. In my own practice, I’ve seen how stigma can prevent individuals from entering into care even when access issues have been mitigated. Public awareness campaigns, and culturally specific advocacy efforts and practices must be integrated into treatment models in order to provide individuals with the specific care they need.
Do you think that the widespread media attention paid to Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles has helped raise awareness about mental health and perhaps also reduced some of the stigma surrounding it?
Yes, I do. Also, the pandemic has opened many individuals eyes, and engendered a sense of empathy, about the prevalence and impact that isolation and loneliness can have on a person.