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Compass recently conducted a survey with Sermo, a global leader in physician insights, to discover how psychiatrists view the potential future role of psilocybin therapy in treating mental health illnesses, such as treatment-resistant depression. Read about the survey findings here.

Dr Murali Doraiswamy, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, and an advisor to Sermo, tells us more about the survey and what it told us.

What did we learn from this survey?

Severe mental health illnesses, such as treatment-resistant depression (TRD), have affected too many people for too long. Two recent well-controlled studies showed some really interesting and positive results in TRD with psilocybin therapy. However, we know very little about practising doctors’ knowledge and perceptions of psilocybin. The Sermo survey – a random, stratified sampling of 259 psychiatrists from US, UK, France, Italy, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands – was designed to uncover some of the first global insights into what practicing psychiatrists think about psychedelic therapy. We found that two thirds of doctors believe that psilocybin therapy holds promise for TRD. However one third of doctors rated their knowledge of psilocybin therapy as below average or poor – so there is some way to go to improve education.

Why is it important to listen to physicians’ opinions when developing new therapies for mental health conditions?

No new medication or psychotherapy, no matter how effective, will be effective in the real world unless implementation barriers and physician concerns are addressed. A Harvard study identified four key questions that doctors ask themselves about any new innovation – 1) which of my patients will this help? 2) how will this benefit my practice? 3) is it simple to use? 4) was my input sought on it?  This is why it’s so important to listen to the voices of doctors on the front lines, educate them and get them engaged early on. In the case of psilocybin therapy, this is even more important – it’s essential to educate physicians and address any misconceptions so that, if proved effective, healthcare systems can welcome such new innovations.

How can we best educate healthcare professionals about new innovations?

Ultimately, I think it starts with bringing physicians in early and making us feel we are involved in the design and implementation. The more we are brought along the journey, the more we’ll buy in. Of course, clinical studies and practice guidelines in top journals as well as conference presentations are the foundation. Interactive learning is also important in helping doctors to understand what will drive better patient outcomes.

What do you think mental health care should look like in the future?

Even prior to the pandemic, providing sufficient mental health care was challenging because of numerous barriers including a shortage of therapists, socioeconomic disparities and severe underinvestment. The stresses the pandemic has imposed have exacerbated those conditions. But one silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has shone a light on the importance of access to mental health care services for all. Remarkable advances in brain science and technology have opened up new pathways to care and we have a great opportunity to leverage these breakthroughs to ensure that everyone everywhere who needs mental health help is able to get it. I am optimistic for the future.

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