Capital of the brain conceptualizes brain health (eg freedom from mental illness and neurodegenerative disease) and brain skills (eg education) as central to the knowledge economy. This concept is based on the assumption that our brain is our greatest asset and provides a framework for defining, quantifying and tracking brain problems. Brain Capital can be integrated into policies and investments
COVID-19 has had enormous negative effects on individual, societal and global brain capital. We are in the early stages of understanding the short-term and long-term effects of COVID-19 on the brain. However, what we do know is alarming. While COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, long-COVID-19 is increasingly revealing itself as a neuropsychiatric disorder. In other words, the long COVID-19 is all about the brain. An estimated 22-32% of patients recovering from COVID-19 experience brain fog and cognitive challenges as part of their long COVID-19 experience. Other research suggests that a third of people with COVID-19 will have a new new or recurrent psychiatric problem (often depression or anxiety) during the following year. Moreover, it is not just people with severe COVID-19 who are affected. Studies have shown that people at all stages of COVID-19including those who have been and have not been hospitalized, have experienced challenges with attention, memory and executive functioning. From a clinical point of view, we know that several factors can lead to cognitive problems and mental disorders post-COVID-19, including pre-existing illnesses, damage from the virus itself, neuroinflammation and vascular damage. However, more research is needed to understand all the mechanisms and implications of COVID-19 on the brain.
This decline in brain health—and therefore of Brain Capital—of COVID-19 has and will continue to have negative economic and societal impacts. With colleagues from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) New Approaches to Economic Issues Unit (NAEC)we showed—through our Policy initiative inspired by neuroscience—that Brain Capital stimulates economic empowerment, brain performance, social resilience and emotional connection. Brain Capital is the foundations economic growth and prosperity. He posits that our brains are our greatest assets, and if we strategically invest in Brain Capitalthe reward is the future of our country, the economy, innovation, well–being, and even democratic force.
COVID-19 has further amplified a pre-existing mental health crisis across the globe, further hurting Brain Capital. According to a recent scientific note from the World Health Organization, in the first year of COVID-19, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%. Multiple factors, including social isolation, loneliness, grief, financial worries, etc., have converged during COVID-19 to cause unprecedented stress and mental health challenges and have exposed existing inequalities in health. In addition, young people have been disproportionately affected. Youth mental health issues were on the rise long before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has amplified and perpetuated these challenges. This led United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to publish a general advice from the surgeon on the urgent need to address the national youth mental health crisis. Advisories are reserved for significant public health issues and previously included advisories on opiates and smoking. The recent Surgeon General’s advice calls for increased investment and immediate responses to prevent young people’s mental health from becoming a second pandemic.
We urgently need innovation to address the effects of COVID-19 on Brain Capital.
Promote and invest in Youth Brain Capital is essential to building a resilient future. This includes not only the mental health of young people, but also the promotion of education and training for young people, which has suffered greatly during the COVID-19 era. According to a recent report by the International Labor Organization, 65% of young people said they had learned less since the start of the pandemic. In addition, 38% of young people said they were unsure about their future career prospects. If the education and training of young people is not addressed, it will perpetuate the mental health crisis and negatively impact Brain Capital for years to come. Indeed, this will lead toa lost generation“educational disruptions related to COVID-19, which could result in the loss of this generation $17 trillion lifetime wages and impact the future economy of the United States.
Addressing and reimagining labor market participation in the United States in the wake of COVID-19 is also essential to the promotion of Brain Capital. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 47 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in 2021, boosted by COVID-19inaugurating the Big resignation. Among workers who left their jobs in 2021, the majority reports low salaries, lack of opportunities for advancement and the feeling of being looked down upon are the main reasons for leaving. These factors have been particularly felt by the low-income workforce. We need to rethink and reimagine labor market participation. There is an urgent need for jobs that require brain and social-emotional skills (e.g. Brain Skills component of Brain Capital) but this do not necessarily require a college education. This would provide an important means to engage and eventually channel low-skilled and low-income labor into the labor markets of the future and into higher quality jobs.enhance the Capital of the individual and collective Brain. Such initiatives hold particular promise for regions with high rates of deep despair and premature death and can help remedy the lack of hope and promote well–being and increasing life expectancy. We must invest in brains to combat America’s crisis of desperation.
We urgently need innovation to address the effects of COVID-19 on Brain Capital. These innovations should cover clinical care, neuroscience research, youth mental health, education, labor market participation, and more. To recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, we must prioritize and invest in the brain with a coordinated approach across all sectors of government, civil society and industry. Indeed, Brain Capital is the path to recovery and is necessary to build a more resilient future.
*To note: This article was adapted from a presentation of Eric Lenze, professor and incoming chair of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, at the U.S. Congressional Neuroscience Caucus on Wednesday, May 18, 2022.