Mental Health is a Part of Health: A Conversation with Shekhar Saxena

In a recent presidential town hall, President Obama looked directly into the camera and made a powerful statement about mental health. “If something inside you feels like it’s wounded, it’s just like a physical injury. You’ve got to go get help,” said the leader of the free world.

Buried under the weight of a massive social stigma, seeking help or even acknowledging a mental illness can be an excruciating task. How, then, can we help ourselves and our loved ones achieve emotional and mental well-being?

shekhar-saxena“Let’s talk,” advised Dr. Shekhar Saxena, a psychiatrist-turned public policy advisor at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO, is a trained psychiatrist and the joint leader of the Mental Health Innovation Network. Upon entering policy research, he now advises policy makers on mental health issues. He is passionate about bringing change to health-related systems and transforming the way we address mental wellness, as a whole.

In an interview with Knowing Neurons, Dr. Saxena shares his thoughts on making mental health more tangible, more commonplace. “Mental health, too, is a part of health,” he reminds us. A concern looming over developing and developed countries alike, illnesses like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, among others, pervade and hinder lives without regard for gender, age, social or economic strata.

How can we, as neuroscience enthusiasts, do our part in creating awareness? Can a leader, or an influential personality help dissolve stigma? What lifestyle changes can we make now that our future self will thank us for? Listen to the full interview here, as we chat up with Dr. Saxena.

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As you may have learned in the interview, the WHO will campaign for the 2017 World Health Day with a focus on depression, and carries a simple message: let’s talk. To view the “Black Dog” video on depression that was mentioned in our interview, click below.


Don’t miss Dr. Shekhar Saxena’s talk on Saturday, November 12th at 11AM at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego. Under the theme, ‘Dialogues Between Neuroscience and Society,’ his talk is titled, “Global Mental Health and Neuroscience: Challenges and Opportunities.”


The Knowing Neurons dynamic poster is on Sunday, November 13th! We are Board no. DP10 in Hall B. We’d love to meet you and share #scicomm and #sciart ideas, so please stop by!!

Join us in celebrating our Next Generation Award, which recognizes SfN chapter members who have made outstanding contributions to public communication, outreach, and education about neuroscience. The award will be presented prior to the Presidential Special Lecture at 5:15 PM on Tuesday, November 15th, in the San Diego Convention Center, Ballroom 20.

See you at Neuroscience 2016! #SfN16


Anita met neuroscience during her undergraduate project, and it was love at first sight. While majoring in biotechnology at the B.M.S. College of Engineering, Bangalore, she had the opportunity to learn about biochemical subtyping as a method for biomarker discovery in neurodevelopmental disorders. She then pursued a Master’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at USC. During her thesis project, her interest in translational neuroscience further evolved as she studied a kinase pathway (PI3K) highly implicated in autism. She currently belongs to the Neuroscience Graduate Program at USC and works on components of the blood-brain barrier and its integrity in animal models of neurological disorders. Outside the lab, Anita is very enthusiastic about educational and scientific storytelling! Some of her parallel interests include consumer psychology and behavior.