One in four of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lives, and because many of these disorders start before the age of 24 early diagnosis is crucial, says Barbara Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at Cambridge University.

In this Forum video, filmed at our 2014 Annual Meeting in Davos, Professor Sahakian says:

There is no greater financial or societal challenge to governments around the world than mental health disorders. Disorders such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other neuro-psychiatric disorders rob the individual and society of mental capital and well-being.

Here are some quotes from the session:

On the importance of early diagnosis:

We need to detect these disorders early and treat effectively early on… It’s particularly important to detect early for Alzheimer’s disease because we are developing neuro-protective agents which will stop the disease process itself. We want to put these drugs into people before the brain damage is done.

On why depression leads to absenteeism:

We have two forms of cognition; one is cold cognition, the other is hot cognition. And cold or rational cognition helps us make most of our decisions in daily life. Hot cognition helps us with social decisions and emotional decisions… Both hot and cold cognition can be infected in neuro-psychiatric disorders such as depression, and this is one of the problems with people being able to work, and that’s why there is so much absenteeism when people are depressed.

On the limitations of current methods of treatment:

We have some drugs which can treat some of the cognitive symptoms that we see in some disorders… But it doesn’t treat the whole range of cognitive symptoms, and we need more novel drugs which will be more effective.

On new areas of research into mental health:

Neuro-ethics is concerned with how new discoveries about the brain will affect our society. I’m particularly interested in two areas of neuro-ethics; one is the stigma attached to mental health problems, and the other is the increasing lifestyle use by healthy people of these cognitive-enhancing or smart drugs. We have to ask ourselves as a society, why are healthy people using these drugs? Why do they feel the need?

On what governments should be doing to reduce mental health disorders:

We know that exercise and lifelong learning will promote neuro-genesis in the brain and this is the way we can promote good brain health. But also we can use new technology… we can do cognitive training using iPads to ensure that we have good cognitive function and we can turn them into games… We need governments to realize that mental health is every bit as important as physical health.

Image: Lightning strikes over a pier during a storm in Atlit, near the northern Israeli city of Haifa October 25, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner