In our blogs, I’ve been discussing the biological factors involved in mental health conditions; primarily, the genetic components. However, biology doesn’t paint the entire picture. In fact, if a person is genetically predisposed to a mental health condition, it does not mean this person will automatically develop the condition. It increases their likelihood, but there are many other factors involved, including environmental and psychological factors. For someone with a genetic predisposition for a mental disorder, interactions with certain environmental factors may serve as ‘triggers’ for the disorder. It’s important to understand that what may be a normal, everyday situation or minor inconvenience for one person may be triggering to someone living with a predisposition for a mental disorder.
I’d like to use an analogy. Imagine you are building a new home or remodeling an older home. You look at floor plans, siding options, etc., but most of all, you want to ensure that your structure is solid and strong. There are many different factors that contribute to the strength of your home, but ultimately, there are three major aspects that will determine how sturdy your home is. Those three factors are the foundation, walls, and roof.
All are essential for your new or remodeled home, but the foundation is the most important part as the strength and stability of the structure depends upon its foundation.
With this being said, even though the foundation is critical, and an issue with the foundation can pose a risk, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your house will collapse. You can live in a home with foundation issues, and many people do. They sometimes don’t even realize it because the underlying problems are not always obvious. Most issues take years to develop into a serious enough problem to pose a safety risk. However, you will be living with a heightened risk from such precipitating events (triggers) as water damage, invasive landscaping, plumbing problems, and seasonal changes resulting in cracking walls, sinking floors, etc. Even though many foundation problems can be bypassed or held at bay using alternate methods, there are some serious foundation issues that must be dealt with directly in order for your house to not be at risk of severe damage or collapsing.
So, in building a new home, why not make sure the foundation is solid to begin with? Or, in your renovation project, why not inspect your home’s foundation to see if it’s in need of repair – before problems magnify into a very costly and time-consuming project? Hopefully, you will resolve any issues as soon as possible!
You likely see where this analogy is taking us. Genetics in mental health is the equivalent to what the foundation is in a house. It’s not the only important factor, but it does serve as the support system for the entire structure. Environmental and psychological factors are the walls and roof in our mental health analogy. All parts need to work in harmony in order for you to have optimal mental health. But without a firm foundation (genetics), everyday stressors in our environment can serve as triggers and put our mental health structures at risk. Can your structure continue to weather the storms of these stressors? And if so, at what cost?
Some people would say, “Well, I’m seeing a therapist, and I’m taking medication prescribed by my psychiatrist. I’m better than I was before…”
Others will say, “I’ve tried so many medications and multiple types of therapy over the years, and I’m not really seeing any benefit. I’m ready to just stop trying.”
And then, there are those who suffer in silence.
What we have been doing for decades in mental health is treating our mental health conditions based on the ‘symptomatic’ factors without getting down to the foundation, the genetic component. It makes no sense to leave this most basic and important piece out of the equation. (Remember, this is the strength and stability of the structure.)
This is not to say that there’s no point in treating the symptoms. Far from it. Current treatments can be, and many times are, very helpful. But if you want to find a cure, you must treat the problem from its root cause (the foundation). This is ‘genetics’.
You may ask why we haven’t looked into this before. And the obvious answer is that we have. But we haven’t gone far enough. Increasing numbers of studies are showing genetic links to mental health disorders, but we are only at the tip of the iceberg. At this time, blood tests are being developed to see if a person is at risk for severe depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers say these tests can also assist in tailoring individual options for therapeutic interventions. https://neurosciencenews.com/depression-bipolar-blood-test-18197/
This is exciting news! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to, one day, have curative treatments specifically tailored to an individual’s needs? These studies are very promising, but so much more needs to be done.
We must truly invest in research, like we have with cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. Over 16 million lives have been saved due to the people’s outcry back in 1971 for a cure for cancer. But it took the people demanding that the legislators make funds available in order to carry the research through. These people are still demanding, to this day, and funds are still being appropriated for cancer research. This is great.
However, one in five Americans live with a diagnosable mental health disorder today, not to mention those who suffer in silence. How many of us, our loved ones, and our friends must continue to suffer at the hands of a mental health disease? The numbers are climbing at staggering rates.
Researching the brain is not a simple task as the brain is a very complex organ. (much more complex than a simple analogy can convey) However, if we commit to spending the necessary time and funds to follow through in this research, the return on our investment will be huge. It will be life-changing for many of us today and for future generations.
Please speak out now and let your legislators know that you are demanding they spend the funds necessary to find cures. The following links give you a list of your own state legislators. Please write to them to let your voices be heard. Remember that you are their constituents, and they will listen to you.
If you would like to learn more about our coalition, or would like to join us, please see our ‘contact us’ page.