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Sage Therapeutics CEO: Mental health is integral to returning to work

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"We need to treat mental health like a physical illness, treat it urgently, in order to get people back to work and back to their families," Sage Therapeutics CEO Jeff Jonas said. Subscribe to CNBC PRO for access to investor and analyst insights: https://cnb.cx/2Vtntx6

Mental health bouts have been on the rise amid the coronavirus pandemic and it’s a critical issue that society must address as the U.S. economy recovers, Sage Therapeutics CEO Jeff Jonas told CNBC’s Jim Cramer Thursday.

“We know factually now that the rates of depression, rates of anxiety and diagnoses are up two to three times and it’s my hope that this is an important opportunity to reflect on how important mental health really is,” Jonas, who has led the Massachusetts-based biopharmaceutical company since 2013, said in a “Mad Money” interview.

Sage Therapeutics develops novel medicines to treat physical and mental challenges.

“We need to treat mental health like a physical illness, treat it urgently, in order to get people back to work and back to their families.”

As Americans grapple with the health, economic and racial crises that have been on top of everyone’s mind since March, a study conducted by Boston University researchers, published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, found that half of the adults surveyed reported some signs of depression. The rate is twice as high from a separate study conducted two years ago.

For some people, it stems from losing loved ones and the financial distress and social isolation the outbreak has caused. Experts say Americans are also feeling anxiety over the racial and political upheaval of the past few months, though the BU study was conducted before the recent tumult.

“There is no question that many people in the U.S. and worldwide are experiencing real and often distressing emotional reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic and, in some cases, to contracting the virus,” said psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Pies, a retired professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

The comments from Jonas come on World Suicide Prevention Day, which is observed on the Sept. 10 each year.

With the U.S. unemployment rate above 8% and the economy tumbling through a very uncertain recession compounded by the virus outbreak, the number of people receiving jobless benefits ticked up week over week. First-time filings for unemployment benefits for the week of Sept. 5 came in at 884,000, worst than the 850,000 figure economists anticipated. The number of people receiving payouts for more than two weeks rose 93,000 to 13.385 million, according to the Labor Department, which updated how it records seasonally adjusted numbers.

“For us to get back to work, for the world to recover ... we need vaccines, we need treatments, but people have to be able to function,” Jonas said. “National mental health should be an everyday priority.”

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