“I experienced how beautiful everything is, and that no one is better or worse, and that I should not judge. It was a spiritual experience, the most beautiful emotional experience of my life.” - Selah Sue, about her experiences with psychedelic therapy

The World Health Organization recently revealed that in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%. The report also highlighted that just a small fraction of people in need had access to effective mental health care. Only one third of people with depression receive formal mental health care and minimally adequate treatment for depression is estimated at 23% in high-income countries.

Despite this, governments worldwide spent on average just over 2% of their health budgets on mental health. For decades mental health has been one of the most overlooked areas of health, receiving a tiny part of the attention and resources it needs and deserves, including low investment in novel treatment options resulting in a lack of innovation in psychiatry.

In the 1950s and 1960s, psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin, MDMA and LSD, were used in psychiatry as adjuncts to psychotherapy, for resistant forms of depression, anxiety, and addictions.

Scientists published more than 1,000 articles and the drugs were tested on around 40,000 people. This research, which was suboptimal by modern standards, suggested that psychedelics were helpful when given within a medically controlled and psychologically supportive context. However, in the 1970s psychedelics were categorized as schedule I controlled substances, which are said to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” This blocked mainstream research on these compounds for decades.

However, given the worsening mental-health crisis and a lack of innovation in psychopharmacology, renewed interest in the therapeutic use of psychedelic compounds has steadily increased since mid-2000’s. Clinical trials have now been conducted at leading universities, and a growing body of evidence supports the use of psychedelics, such as psilocybin and MDMA, in the treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addictions and anxiety toward the end of life.

Despite ongoing research in most European countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, Portugal, Denmark and Switzerland, no research regarding psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy has yet been initiated in Belgium. This implies an important gap in the Belgian psychiatric research field.  Belgium is lagging in terms of the necessary skills and knowledge to offer these potentially effective treatments to Belgian patients if they will be licensed in a few years from now.

Belgian artist Selah Sue, born Sanne Putseys, who studied psychology before rising to international fame, has been at the forefront of mental health campaigns for many years, and has contributed to creating honest conversations about difficult feelings, depression, anxiety, and breaking down stigma around antidepressant-medication. Whilst working on her latest album ‘Persona’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanne, who had been taking antidepressant medication for 14 years, felt emotionally flattened and blocked. Guided and coached by a Dutch expert, she used psilocybin truffels alongside therapy and not only successfully stopped her medication but found new joy and balance in her daily life, as a mother and artist.

Sanne will share her experiences with psychedelic therapy. She will be interviewed by Dr Mathieu Seynaeve, a Belgian medical doctor, psychiatrist and Senior Research Associate at the Psychedelic Trials Group, Institute for Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London.

The evening is hosted by The Merode in support of the Isala Foundation, managed by King Baudouin Foundation. Isala foundation aims to enable psychedelic research at Belgian Universities, to build expertise, train researchers and therapists, and ultimately enable access for Belgian patients to novel interventions for difficult to treat mental health indications.

ABOUT SPEAKERS:

Mathieu Seynaeve, Senior Research Associate at King’s College department of Psychological Medicine

Sanne Putseys, Belgian musician and songwriter known asSelah Sue. She has had chart success with the hit singles “Raggamuffin”, “Crazy Vibes” and “This World” and won a European Border Breakers Award (EBBA) in 2011.

Laetitia Vanderijst, PhD Candidate with the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Sorbonne University, setting up the first psychedelic trial for alcohol use disorder in Belgium.

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