Interwiev with David Nutt from The European Brain Council (EBC)

Thanks for asking me to share some news and views of EBC with you all.  I have done my best to answer your questions but please do get back to me if you have others. And do follow us on Twitter!

Which cooperating organisations form EBC? How do you foster cooperation between the member organizations?

The European Brain Council (EBC) is a non-profit organisation and our membership is made up of European-level organisations which represent patients and carers, practitioners in neurology, neuro-psycho pharmacology, psychiatry and neuroscience. In addition, we work with partners from the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry and welcome the participation of a wide range of observer organisations, including National Brain Councils from a number of EU member states.

Our member organisations come together twice a year to receive updates on the work of EBC and to have an opportunity to meet and share progress in their own organisations. We rely on their frequent contribution – we are in regular contact with members, asking them to provide insight and guidance on specific policy developments. Members are also active in our projects, particularly Value of Treatment, which has brought together a large number of experts working on specific brain disorders. And member organisations are also active supporters of our social media campaigns. It’s a network, and we try to encourage mutual support, following each other’s progress, with the intention that the network becomes more solid and unified over time.

What are EBC’s aims and plans? For adult psychiatry and CAP specifically?

Bringing all these voices together, EBC exists to promote brain research, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life of those living with brain disorders in Europe. We work to help policy makers understand the severity of these conditions, the suffering and upheaval they cause in the lives of patients and their families.  We try to highlight the stigma that patients are often subjected to.  If we can increase the level of understanding among policy makers, their policy decisions can lead to very valuable changes in how society addresses brain disorders.  And we advocate for more resources to be devoted to research, so that scientists are equipped to make advances in our understanding and in developing treatments.

All of these efforts are relevant to adult psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry. It’s important to make sure policy changes incorporate the needs of those suffering from a mental disorder. Research in these areas is crucial, knowing that these patients are arguably more isolated and endure greater stigma than those with conditions with physical symptoms.  It seems obvious to psychiatry professionals that mental illness is an enormous burden, not only for patients, but for their carers and the society that is responsible for providing their care. Yet the need remains for organisations like EBC and our members to continue to help policy makers understand the cost of that burden.

EBC is also reaching out to employers through the Not Myself Today project, in an effort to improve understanding of mental health in the workplace and encourage greater openness. The project provides employers with a toolkit of resources to support employees with mental health issues, and it prompts a discussion of mental health in the workplace.

How does EBC try to influence policy related to mental health care, research and education at the European level?

At the end of 2016, EBC and 16 other policy organisations co-signed the Joint-statement on mental health for the EU Health Policy Platform. Our co-signatories included EBC member organisations GAMIAN-Europe (Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks-Europe) and the European Psychiatric Association (EPA). GAMIAN represents those affected by mental illness, advocating for them at a European level, and EPA represents the interests of psychiatrists in academia, research and practice. EUFAMI, another signatory, is an observer in EBC.  Our joint statement urged European institutions to give mental health the same priority as physical health, take a life-course approach to mental health, pay stronger attention to mental health in the workplace and to improve mental health treatment in primary care settings.

What is EBC’s opinion about psychiatric training in Europe? And undergraduate psychiatric education?

The many psychiatrists who engage with EBC are extremely committed to the future of psychiatric training in Europe. They are also very aware of the issues that face trainees over and above those that face the discipline in general. We believe that psychiatry is one of the core elements of medicine and one that should be accorded the same respect, commitment and investment as any of the other more fashionable specialties. We work to improve the status of psychiatry as a discipline by removing the stigma that is applied to all aspects of mental illness, from patients to practitioners to government investment and research spend.

What would Prof Nutt’s message be for psychiatrists and CAPs of the future?

Psychiatrists function within complex health systems – at national, European and international levels. Those systems are shaped by political forces. It is important for psychiatrists to understand the need to engage with policy makers at every level of health systems so that, as experts, we can speak for our patients, who otherwise may not have a voice. I would urge everyone in psychiatric practice to pay attention to political developments and to contribute to the discussion. There are plenty of organisations that provide an opportunity for this, and if there is an unmet need, you should consider collaborating with your colleagues to form an organisation. National Brain Councils are an excellent opportunity for psychiatrists to follow developments and to get involved.

If a trainee wants to follow EBC’s activities or join EBC’s projects, what can she/he do?

Stay informed of EBC’s work by following us on Twitter @EU_Brain, and by signing up for our newsletter. Becoming involved with our member organisation, the European Psychiatric Association (EPA) and the ECNP, will also give you the opportunity to stay informed.

So good luck to you all in your careers and please stay in touch.

David Nutt
March 2017