watercolour image of human head with pale yellow and blue as predominant colours, symbolising mental health.
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‘Stigma is sometimes even a bigger problem than the disease itself’

9 May 2019

Inspirefest 2019 speaker Laurent de Saint Sernin is hoping to impart greater awareness of the damage caused by stigma about mental health.

Set to speak as part of the ‘Mental Health Literacy’ panel at Inspirefest 2019 is Janssen Sciences Ireland’s general manager of commercial operations, Laurent de Saint Sernin. For the past 12 years, he has worked under Janssen’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, starting by leading the development of an ambitious strategy for Nicorette, the smoking cessation aid.

Through his professional journey across various sectors of the healthcare industry, De Saint Sernin has had the opportunity to live and work in France, the US, the UK and Switzerland, through which he developed a strong belief in the value of cultural diversity, collaboration and talent growth.

Having joined Janssen in 2013 as its head of EMEA commercial strategy, De Saint Sernin made the move to Ireland last September where he finds himself in his current role.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, he said that the role offers him a chance to feel a “part of something that matters”.

“Every day I get the chance to wake up thinking that what we do with our team of Ireland, at some point, is to have a life-changing impact on someone somewhere,” he said. “It’s true that the patients and nurses are the heroes who try to make sense of the science, but what I think the commercial team is doing is also important.”

Headshot of Laurent de Saint Sernin in a navy suit with a red tie against a white background.

Janssen Sciences Ireland’s general manager of commercial operations, Laurent de Saint Sernin. Image: Janssen

A simple idea for a big problem

On the important topic of mental illness, De Saint Sernin said that while Janssen is heavily involved in the medicinal side of its treatment, there is a lot to be said for working to prevent mental illness, too.

“I would like to engage the audience about what employers can do to help people be more literate or armed to face the potential challenges of mental illness in the workplace,” he said about his upcoming Inspirefest appearance.

“We’re asking ourselves what can we do beyond bringing drugs to people, and the first thing to do is obviously do the right thing when it comes to your employees.”

Secondly, he said he wants to discuss Janssen’s partnership with the mental health organisations Aware and See Change to raise awareness among the general public of what mental illness means and hopefully reduce the stigma.

“Stigma is a big part of the problem, sometimes even a bigger problem than the disease itself, creating a vicious circle,” he said. “People who start to develop the first signs of mental illness, they think of that stigma in society around them and they typically become withdrawn and don’t look for help.”

As part of its ‘growing conversation around mental illness’ campaign, Janssen and De Saint Sernin propose a simple idea.

“If people were to engage the right way in a conversation within a close environment with those may be suffering from the first sign of mental illness, that could go a long way to help people seek the right advice towards recovery,” he said.

Updated, 12.07pm, 9 May 2019: This article has been amended to include the names of mental health organisations that Janssen has partnered with.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

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