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Two Winners Announced in Open Innovation Mental Health Awareness Challenge

Incentive challenge offered $10,000 for innovative ideas to increase awareness and utilization of mental health services in developing countries.

Published February 05, 2014

NEW YORK, February 5, 2014 - Scientists Without Borders, a program of the New York Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with Johnson & Johnson, today announced the winners of a $10,000 open innovation challenge that called for ideas to increase awareness and utilization of mental health services for depression and anxiety disorders among patients in the developing world. Mental disorders pose severe public health consequences in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), where nearly three-quarters of global cases occur. In LMICs and other low-resource settings, mental disorders are exacerbated by a number of challenges. These include lack of awareness and education, as well as stigma from both the community and individuals.

The winners, who worked together on the winning concept, "Mhealth for Mental Health" will share the $10,000 prize. They are:

  • Veena S. Katikineni, a second year medical student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, and 
  • Alejandra Leyton, a Bolivian health economist perusing an MPH at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.


The winning idea, "Mhealth for Mental Health," proposes the use of SMS text message service to directly supply relevant information to the depressed or anxious patient and his or her family, friends and community in general, who are best positioned to support their loved one through his or her struggle. This intervention was designed on the premise that access to information about community resources and mental health disease, coupled with an informed social support network, will empower patients to seek help in combatting mental health problems. The intervention will send relevant information to people who present symptoms of depression or anxiety, as well as the community at large with the hope that members will refer one another to the service.

The winners were chosen by an independent expert selection panel convened by Scientists Without Borders, including Anne E. Becker, MD, PhD, SM, Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Vice Chair, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Pamela Y. Collins, MD, MPH, Director, Office for Research of Disparities & Global Mental Health, Director, Office of Rural Mental Health Research, National Institute of Mental Health/NIH; Steven E. Hyman, MD, Director, Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Hilmi Quraishi, Co-Founder ZMQ- a technology for development social enterprise based India, Elected Ashoka Fellow; and Vikram Patel, FMedSci, Professor of International Mental Health and Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Science and Centre for Global Mental Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Sangath Goa, India, Center for Mental Health, Public Health Foundation of India. The panelists chose the winning solutions from 36 submissions that were generated over 31 days.

Veena Katikineni and Alejandra Leyton note, "This challenge fascinated us from the moment we began thinking about depression and anxiety, problems which affect all people facing adversity in different forms. We drew lessons from our own experiences both in the developing and developed world to consider the barriers to dealing with any kind of personal problem and securing continued social support. With these ideas, we formed a vision of the ideal discrete support mechanism, and then explored the literature to best apply this vision to the issues of depression and anxiety."

Leyton and Katikineni have worked together on several projects. Their close friendship and similar interests brought them together, and allowed them to continue solving challenges while attending graduate school in different states. The prize will be equally distributed.

In keeping with the partners' missions, and Scientists Without Borders' open platform, the winning solutions are publicly available on the Scientists Without Borders website to encourage further uptake and adaptation.

"There continues to be great unmet need and human suffering related to mental illnesses," says Husseini K. Manji, MD, Global Head, Neuroscience Therapeutic Area, Janssen Research & Development, LLC, a Johnson & Johnson company. "We are honored to be a part of this project to encourage innovative ways to educate people and enable them to seek care for mental illness and to have hope for effective treatment." 

"We are very pleased to work collaboratively with the New York Academy of Sciences and Scientists Without Borders on this challenge," says Seema Kumar, Vice President, Enterprise Innovation and Global Health Communications, Johnson & Johnson. "Programs like this one help to encourage innovative solutions to serious public health challenges and unmet medical needs."

"Working together with our partners, and using our open innovation model, we've surfaced novel ideas that have the potential to improve access to care and diagnosis in mental illness for those in the lowest-resource settings." says Chenelle Bonavito, program associate of Scientists Without Borders.

This project is related to the Healthy Minds Initiative, launched in 2011 by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, which strives to accelerate progress in the fight against brain disorders-through basic discovery, clinical translation, and multi-sector collaboration-and to help educate people about brain disorders and reduce the stigma that is associated with them. 

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About Scientists Without Borders

Scientists Without Borders, a program of the New York Academy of Sciences, is a web-based collaborative community that generates and advances innovative and effective science and technology-based solutions to the world's challenges. Scientists Without Borders's unique model leverages a free online platform to connect a worldwide group of cross-disciplinary, multi-sector users to develop and openly share concrete and effective solutions to these challenges. To learn more about Scientists Without Borders, visit


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