It is time for a concerted effort, the ‘War on Mental Illness,’ to be launched.
On 23 December 1971, the then US President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, a United States federal law. The act was intended ‘to amend the Public Health Service Act so as to strengthen the National Cancer Institute in order to more effectively carry out the national effort against cancer’.1 This has been widely perceived as the official launch of the War on Cancer. If one looks back at 1971, we were technologically unprepared to launch such a war then. At that time, medical research was severely limited by insufficient technology—there was no magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), no positron emission tomography (PET), very rudimentary molecular biology, no genetically modified animals, no automated DNA or human genome sequencing, no personal computers, no databases, and no universal access to bibliography. Scientific manuscripts were handwritten and then typed with manual typewriters, with no possibility for cutting and pasting. A revised version of a scientific article had to be typed in its entirety from scratch. Obviously, all our current ‘omics’ platforms, such as genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and lipidomics had not even been dreamed of. Yet, the enormity of task, the audacity of the goal, and the technical limitations of the era did not prevent the launch of that ambitious and immensely successful effort. While some cancers, such as pancreatic carcinoma and glioblastoma multiforme, remain uniformly fatal, others have been, for the vast majority of patients, either cured or transformed from a death sentence into chronic illnesses that one manages and lives a long time with.
We propose that it is now the time for a ‘War on Mental Illness’ to be officially and rapidly launched, both as national efforts within various countries and also as an international initiative. The goal of that effort will be improved translation of science into health care, resulting in more efficacious treatments than what we have available today.