Dr. Thomas Insel: Our Mental Health System Is 'Badly Broken'

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Dr. Thomas Insel presenting an award at Smithsonian Magazine's American Ingenuity Awards
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Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness. The vast majority of them have never been violent and never will be.

But over the last few years, a good number of the young men involved in mass murders have suffered from mental illness: Christopher Harper-Mercer, the gunman who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week, had Autism Spectrum Disorder.

James Holmes, recently sentenced to life in prison for murdering 12 people in Aurora, Colorado, was diagnosed with a disease similar schizophrenia. Adam Lanza, who shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, had severe anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia and a number of other problems.

As the director of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel has kept track of these headlines. As he steps down from his position after 13 years at the NIMH, Dr. Insel reflects on the recent, great advances in brain science, and his disappointment that these developments have yet to reach a great majority of those who suffer from mental illness.

"The mental health system is badly broken," Dr. Insel tells The Takeaway. "The problem right now is that we have a lot of people with mental illness that are not treated at all, treated very late, or treated very inadequately." 

In November, Dr. Insel will step down after 13 years leading NIMH for a job at Google Life Sciences. He tells John Hockenberry about his hopes for his new position, and technology's potential in treating mental illness.