Interview Prof. Dr. Robert Schoevers

‘We do a lot of research into what cause mental disorder, how it then develops and whether we can find meaningful subtypes that would lead to better treatments. We are very interested in new ways of looking at psychopathology, and potential new interventions. We are looking at the full continuum. A lot of our clinical research focuses on the most persistent conditions and patients, whereas in research we also collaborate with many societal partners to work on better prevention. It is vital that we invest in reducing the prevalence of psychopathologic conditions at a population level. Right now, the numbers are staggering.’

Robert notes that, just as with many other conditions, for psychiatric disorders, the burden of disease is the highest for people with a lower socioeconomic status and people with a less healthy lifestyle, which often goes hand in hand. Furthermore, mood disorders, in particular depression, are twice as likely to be developed by women as men. Depression is one of the most prevalent disorders with an extremely high disease burden, especially for people with chronic depression who do not respond well to treatment. Chronic depression comprises about 80% of the disease burden for depression. ‘And that’s where you want to innovate’, says Robert. 

‘To innovate, you need research, and for research, you need a steady infrastructure.'

- Prof. Dr. Robert Schoevers, Professor of Psychiatry and Head of Department Psychiatry of the University Medical Center Groningen

A steady infrastructure

‘To innovate, you need research, and for research, you need a steady infrastructure of professionals and treatment facilities. In practice, it is difficult to set up an infrastructure and find funding for it as an individual researcher or organisation; a situation that many people will recognise.’ Robert says that working within a larger network provides four driving factors for innovation: 1) sharing knowledge with patients, society and professionals; 2) educating people on new interventions; 3) a collective data infrastructure that allows us to look at problems on an aggregated level between all parties involved; 4) shared financing that will also elicit more commitment from parties that are not used to working under these circumstances. ‘These factors are crucial for the field as they allow us to boost innovation. Everyone, industrial partners, clinical partners and patients, will benefit from these developments. For that reason, we hope that our current PPS proposal will be funded as a start of such a comprehensive collaboration.’

Catching up
Attention for psychological problems is growing and, in general, the stigma surrounding these is decreasing, especially when compared to the situation 30 years ago. The Netherlands has a  large mental health sector, but if we look at the disease burden compared to expenditure per patient, we could argue that there is a big divide between somatic and mental health. ‘For some somatic disease areas, expenditures per patient can be a factor of 20 or 30 higher for research, compared to areas in mental health. ‘We have a lot of catching up to do’, says Robert. 
The manifest Hoofdzaken is part of this “catching up” and aims to mobilise 250 million euros in 10 years for research and innovation in mental health. Hoofdzaken is a research agenda. However, Robert states that if the projects funded by Hoofdzaken can land in an infrastructure described like the one described above, they can significantly strengthen each other’s efforts. 
Support Hoofdzaken and sign the manifest
With the support of all involved in the brain and psychological domain, we are stronger. Hoofdzaken is supported by over 140 professionals, experts by experience, organisations and initiatives. You can also show your support by signing the manifest here.

This interview is one of many interviews in our recently published Year in Preview. Curious about the other subjects in our online magazine? Take a look now!

Robert Schroevers

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