By now, those who follow us know we are advocating for more research into the biological causes for mental health conditions and suicide. I am now wanting to add a very important point to the conversation. This is that we must make a change in how we are talking to our young people about mental health.  I believe that if the public was made aware that there is in fact a genetic component involved in serious mental health conditions and suicide, this in and of itself, would remove much of the stigma surrounding these topics. 

All major psychiatric disorders have a familial and heritable component. Twin studies have documented significant heritability across the spectrum of psychopathology, with estimates ranging from 20% to 45% for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder; from 50% to 60% for alcohol dependence and anorexia nervosa; and from 75% upward for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2019.19060643

Suicide and non-fatal suicide attempts have substantial genetic etiology, which is partially shared and partially distinct from that of related psychiatric disorders. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322321015705

Of course, genetics isn’t the only factor. However, in many cases, it does account for the predisposition to serious mental health disorders and suicide.  Maybe, young people would be more open to reaching out for help if they knew, based on these statistics, that their conditions quite possibly have a biological basis, a “scientific” foundation.  As it stands, far too many still suffer in silence due to the stigma of (pardon me for the very stigmatized phrase),  ’It’s all in your head’

Do researchers have all of the answers to the causes of these genetic predispositions, and better yet, effective treatments and curative therapies?  No, sadly, not yet.  What we need is far more research and far more funding for this research.  

However, while we wait for science to catch up, we need to take advantage of the help we do have at this time, and that is in working with qualified mental health professionals. Our young people will know that there is a ‘scientific’ reason behind their mental health conditions, and that these conditions are ‘real’, all the while learning valuable coping strategies. I believe people (of all ages) will feel more comfortable in taking that first step forward to reach out for help if they feel they have a real biological condition, and not just something that’s ‘all in your head’, so to speak.

So what am I saying?  We must advocate for biological and genetic research, and we must reduce mental health stigma.  

But, which comes first???

That’s a good question.  I think both need to work simultaneously.  In order to reduce stigma, we must have far more research into the biological causes for these brain diseases.  On the other hand, in order to gain support for research into the biological causes, we must reduce the stigma surrounding them.  Each goes hand in hand. 

We all need to work together – scientists, educators, parents, community leaders, and Congress.  We must all come together to end our mental health crisis!  This is not only for today, but for generations to come. Please join us.

“Moonshot for Mental Health!”

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