Robert F. Kennedy once said, “GDP measures anything but worth it. Half a century later, conventional indicators are still missing an essential element of economic health: brain health.

Our brain fuels our ability to create and innovate; their plasticity provides resilience to emotional, physical and mental challenges. They determine how we live and interact with the world. Our collective intelligence fuels social, technological, educational and economic progress.

Optimal brain health is intimately linked to productivity and economy. The World Economic Forum’s list of the 10 best skills for 2025 included 1. Analytical Thinking and Innovation and 2. Active Learning and Learning Strategies. These two skills were absent from the previous WEF list, published for 2020. Another group of skills missing from the previous list debuted at No. 5 for 2025 – resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. These “soft skills” are integral to brain health.

Those of us with high stress tolerance and adaptive natures have fared better under the economic dislocation and social isolation of COVID-19. But even before the pandemic, the cost of mental and substance use disorders exceeded $225 billion a year — and that figure doesn’t include the cost of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Over the past three years, we have seen an upsurge in depression and substance abuse. Long-haul COVID, with its mood swings and memory lapses, is on the rise. The lack of carers for children, the elderly and people with disabilities leads to heavy economic burdens. School-aged children are terribly behind academically; professionals fear that lost educational opportunities will never be recovered.


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These growing stressors have eroded our collective brain health and productivity – essentially, our human infrastructure. Socioeconomic burdens, including low educational and occupational levels, diminished social support, and poverty, are corrosive and lead to inequalities in brain health. Our infrastructure needs support and deep renovation.

Standard economic indicators, such as unemployment, debt, and low savings rates, fail to capture these brain-related factors, leading policymakers to overlook them in favor of more traditional forms of capital. Even when legislation addresses brain-related issues, they are usually artificially siloed.

For example, education is closely linked to brain health issues (poor brain health leads to low education and low education leads to poorer brain health). Mental illnesses such as depression are considered separate from dementia and treated with separate medical expertise and interventions. Governments spend enormous resources trying to reduce the negative effects of these brain problems through social protection, mental health care and law enforcement.

Unfortunately, we spend far less to prevent or treat the root causes of these adverse outcomes. Further efforts are needed to build and build capacity before clinical symptoms become debilitating.

These interrelated issues require a comprehensive approach – a White House Brain Capital Council.

Brain Capital focuses on collective brain health at the state and national level. The Brookings Institute and a dozen leading neuroscientists and academics made direct connections between 11 current White House tips and the concept of brain capital in a recent article. Three of us were among the signatories. We advocate for a Brain Capital Council established within the President’s Executive Office. The responsibility of this new council would be the integration of existing working groups, councils and advisory groups in the public and private sectors.

Comprehensive solutions are urgently needed to improve and maintain brain health and treat brain health disorders. A brain health revolution is needed – just as the fitness revolution of the 1970s and 1980s created an actionable new understanding of heart health.

Our most valuable assets – our brains – must be at the center of our nation’s policy-making. It is essential to the future well-being of the American people and will result in increased productivity, ending decades of slow productivity growth. It might even strengthen our fraying democracy.

A White House Brain Capital Council will serve as a human-centered narrative of progress, fusing brain science and society, that will lead to measuring what’s worth it: our brain health.

Sandra Bond Chapman is founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. Harris Eyre is a brain health researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a senior brain capital researcher at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Adm. William H McRaven is the former head of the Joint Special Operations Command, senior adviser to Lazard, and national spokesperson for the BrainHealth Project. Carol Graham is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and senior fellow at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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