Carrying on: neuroscience and mental health care in the time of Covid

Like many medical professionals in this period, those from the fields of neuroscience and mental health have been struggling not only to continue with research and care, but also to sustain their professional networks. Virtual meetings are providing some help, and in certain cases they are allowing professional communities to grow.

This topic was explored on 2 November in a panel discussion at the European Convention Center Luxembourg as part of the 59th ICCA Congress 2020, for which Luxembourg served as regional co-host. The panel was made up of three professionals from the field who participated virtually, and it was moderated in person by communication consultant Frederik Wittock.

Mental health education in the time of confinement

Panelist Stefan Pype, a medical affairs manager at Janssen, says that because rates of mental illness were growing even before Covid, neuroscience is increasingly important. He says that WHO predicts that psychiatric disorders will soon affect more people than cardiovascular disease and cancer, and he described the pandemic as ‘a lever to help us move into a new era.’ Apps and other digital tools can compensate for the lack of face-to-face contact, he says.

In regards to networking and knowledge-sharing among professionals, Mr Pype says he and others in his field now participate in events virtually, which means that everyone ‘has a front row seat’ and can easily break into smaller, more focused groups which ‘enhances social connection that people look for at conferences.’ However, this era does place new demands on those presenting in online meetings. ‘You need to be more agile’, he says.

A psychiatry museum continues to carry out its mission

Yoon Hee Lamot, curator at the Dr. Guislain Museum in Ghent, talked about the challenges her institution has been facing as a result of lockdown measures. The museum, which is housed in the first psychiatric hospital in Belgium, welcomes 70,000 visitors per year and plays an important role educating the public about the history of mental health care, she says. Staff rely on guided tours, workshops, presentations, and community projects to carry out their mission, but these activities have become impossible during the current lockdown.

Ms Lamot says this has obliged them to find new, creative ways to interact with the public. One recent project was to have artists specialised in collage interact with the public and show the resulting art virtually. Another solution was to host an awards ceremony online, which ended up attracting many more people than usual. Still, she admits that it’s difficult to adapt to the circumstances. ‘For us, the tactile is very important’, she says.

The need to support practitioners

The third panelist was Stijn Jannes, president of the Society for Psychosomatic Medicine, which is a holistic, interdisciplinary approach that sees the individual as ‘unique and indivisible’. For Mr Jannes and his organisation, education plays a large role, and they frequently put together symposia, workshops, meetings, and seminars, all of which have been made difficult due to the crisis.

The pandemic has also placed unprecedented strains on practitioners, who are now subject to a lack of gratitude, ignorance, and even hostility. This has left them feeling exhausted and cynical. To continue supporting them, Mr Jannes and his team have organised online meetings, for example, a webinar to discuss the challenges that medical professionals face. Medical professionals ‘work in a certain loneliness’, he says, but he foresees a future in which they work together more, ‘in a more interdisciplinary way’.

Key points

  • Mental health is growing in importance, and during the era of Covid, digital meetings can expand one’s audience and give everyone a ‘front row seat’.
  • The staff at the Dr. Guislain Museum, which educates the public about the history of mental health care, relies on activities like guided tours, workshops, and other in-person activities, but now they have to find new ways to keep the public engaged.
  • Support for mental health practitioners is more important than ever, as many suffer from exhaustion and burnout.